When we visited our home in South Africa in January this year, my wife Valerie and I hosted what we at Common Change refer to as a ‘Generosity Dinner’. You invite some friends over for a meal and each person donates some money into a common pool and then as a group you decide what needs [of people you know and care about] you will meet with that money as a gift to those people. Tristan Pringle attended the Dinner we ran and was inspired by it so much that he decided to host his own. I asked him to share the story of how that went:
A while back a few of us felt compelled to create or be part of a platform where we were able to have gospel charged robust conversations about Justice. We formed an informal group of people committed to get together every few months and chat about social justice; we called it ‘Jesus Justice Us’. Our aim is to empower each other to talk about Justice and actively seek for an outlet for the things we learn. We are compelled by love, fueled by the Gospel, and we have Jesus as our main example.
My friend Chido and I spent hours talking about what to do with the group and what Jesus meant when he said some of the things he said, particularly when he spoke about giving. For one of the sessions we thought it a good idea to experiment in collaborative giving. We would be able to chat about issues in general but also have a practical outworking of it. The idea of a generosity dinner seemed to be the perfect canvas for this sort of thing. Chido is a great activator so once the idea was out we set about framing the evening. The vision being that instead of just talking about justice we would actively participate in the process.
A generosity dinner is an evening where a group of people get together, have a meal and pool their funds to meet a need or many needs. The needs that are met are of people that we have a relationship with, we speak of one degree of separation. So on this night we had about 20 people join us (which is probably a bit too big for this sort of thing). Each person brought some food, a little money and a need of someone they knew and had a relationship with.
Our guiding principles were that at the root of it all there was a mandate in Gospel to have a heart for the poor and that giving money (only) in most cases does not effectively deal with problems. In fact we said that money in this discussion was a last resort measure to meet a need. We also decided that we would only give out of relationship. So we would only give if the person presenting the need was going to be able to follow through and walk a road with the person in need. In conversations like this we tend to focus on the needs, and the amounts of money that is needed to solve the need, but in this conversation we decided that each need represented a person, a real person with a family perhaps and so we referred to them by their first names.
The amount of money that people brought varied but because the point of the evening was not money it didn’t matter, we were actively trying to take away the power from money and so no one person had majority voting rights. Everyone was on an equal footing. To facilitate a discussion of this sort with 20 people can be a daunting thing so we split off into 5 smaller groups, in each group individuals presented their needs. The group as a collective then chose one need that could be best met in this context to present to the larger group. We then had 6 needs to interrogate (one group presented two needs because they couldn’t narrow it down to one). Finally we chatted through each of the needs and ended up being able to meet each need to some degree.
Here are the needs we chose to meet:
- We agreed to pay for an ID and for taxi fare to the various points to get documentation for the elderly gardener of one of the participants. The ID would allow him to apply for a government grant. Through our network we were also able to point him towards government services for getting a government grant
- Someone knew a girl that needed some dental work done. We were able to get information that meant she would get a free check up at children’s hospital.
- We agreed to sponsor a girl from a foreign country (where the Gospel is banned) with transport and food money to get her to and from her village while she is studying at the bible school in the city.
- We agreed to help restore a shack’s roof and making it water tight for winter. Some people were also keen to offer physical help. There was also a “side” need of securing the title deeds for the piece of land the shack is located on and people were encouraged to feedback if they figured out a way of doing that.
- We agreed to fund maternity leave for a domestic worker who would otherwise not have received an income straight after her pregnancy. Our local church also has a Mercy store to supply some things at really cheap prices or even for free and so a few people in the group would point her in that direction and see what they can get for her.
- We agreed to get reusable diapers for a family that wasn’t able to afford normal diapers. The eldest daughter in the family is also out of school and needs to start her schooling somewhere. One of the guys in the group committed to look at getting prices at different schools as well
We managed to raise R6000 on the evening, but again it was not about that money. There is something about collective wisdom and knowledge that comes out on an evening of collaborative giving. People were able to point out ways of helping without the use of money.
When I think about the kinds of needs we met on the evening, it seems like such a small thing. Buying diapers, paying to get a roof of a shack fixed. Those things will run out and break and I have to do a double take and ask what the point of this is? Did we bring lasting transformation or did we just put a band aid on a much larger injury? I read a quote to group on that evening that puts it all in perspective for me:
As agents of transformation in God’s subversive kingdom, we don’t have to apologize for being few in number, focusing on one little area or need around us, making what seems to be a small impact. Our King’s own teaching tells us not to be thrown off or discouraged by worldly perspectives that minimize what we’re doing or try to stop us from getting started altogether, making us perceive our kingdom work as being too insignificant to matter. Small strides are actually God’s deliberate design for effective growth. It’s how his kingdom happens. Jesus was born in a manger in a little town on the backside of nowhere and today more than a billion people on the planet consider themselves His followers. That’s kingdom economy. A mustard seed “becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches” (v. 32). Little by little it produces shocking, unexpected growth until “birds of every kind will nest under it”– representing all the nations of the world–“taking shelter in the shade of its branches” (Ezek. 17:23).” Subversive Kingdom – Ed Stetzer
And so for those few hours in a house in a house in Cape Town we were planting mustard seeds across the city. And it doesn’t end there because each of the people we chose to help now has someone walking a road with them watering that seed even if it’s just for a season. Participating in a dinner like this does not only impact the people you hope to help it also impacts’ you. For once you are able to participate in a process rather than submit to the armchair activist tactics we have all become so apt at. My prayer (as Saint Francis prayed) is that God may bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world; so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. It all starts with helping one person, and planting one seed.
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