This is the final post in a series of five posts exploring money and faith. The series title comes from this scripture verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23 – 25)
On Monday, I wrote about my ongoing struggle with tithing. Another big question around tithing is where to give? At the DC church that I attended in my 20s, where a 10 percent tithe was a minimum requirement, all of my contributions went directly to the church. I struggled with that. Our church occupied a coffee house space that was open for lunch on weekdays and for music and poetry on Friday nights. It also housed a Christian bookstore. While there was much about the coffee house ministry that I loved, I wasn’t sure I wanted to give sacrificially mostly to keep the doors of a struggling coffee house open, particularly given the raw human need that was evident any time I walked through the neighborhood in which the coffee house was located, and that financial management was not our church’s strong suit.
Now I worship in a traditional mainline church, so I can at least rest assured that the money I give to the church not only supports the church itself, but also supports our diverse outreach ministries, including a school in Haiti, a local feeding program, and regular contributions to various social service organizations. There is an additional spiritual benefit of tithing primarily to one’s worshipping community, as we give up control over our money and hand it over to a community of people whom we trust.
That said, however, I also like to give to other nonprofit organizations. I need to feel that our family is doing something, no matter how small, to combat the misery that stares out from the New York Times front page every weekend. But to whom should we give? Despite my efforts to keep us off of mailing lists, we still receive solicitations from about a dozen different groups—all worthy, all in need of our support.
This is the system I’ve worked out, which is far from perfect but works well enough. We pledge to our church, with the goal of giving higher and higher percentages of our income each year. In addition, I’ve chosen a single organization—the World Food Program (USA)—to receive an additional monthly pledge. Beyond that, I try to give a couple of times a year to three or four organizations that we either have a personal connection to or whose mission is particularly compelling, including our alma maters, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and the Carter Center.
Why the World Food Program for our secondary monthly pledge?
Because few things scare me more than the idea of being unable to feed my children when they are hungry.It can be easy for moms like me to forget what a privilege it is to be able to feed our kids. Feeding my kids actually becomes an annoyance to me much of the time. I get so tired of the constant requests for snacks, of how the kids and their neighborhood playmates hang around the kitchen, preparing to decimate the grocery haul that I’ve just spent several hours purchasing, of their rejection of perfectly normal foods like eggs and steak. Plus I feel like this:
Food can be such a focus of angst and even anger in wealthy families like ours, where we have more than enough and we all, adults and kids, become far too used to such abundance. But then I imagine how it would feel to have one of my kids say, “Mom, I’m hungry!” and have nothing to give in response. Nothing. How do moms stand it? Their hearts must be crazed with cracks, a new one appearing each time they have to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you.”
So I give monthly to the United Nations’ World Food Program (via the World Food Program USA). The World Food Program is the largest humanitarian agency addressing hunger worldwide. In addition to providing emergency food for areas facing famine, the WFP has special programs to address long-term hunger and malnutrition, including school feeding and women’s initiatives. And they make it easy for me to give regularly by setting up monthly deductions from my bank account, and providing excellent year-end records of all gifts. Having my gifts happen automatically has that same spiritual benefit of my having to give up some control over my money—my gift goes to WFP every month, no matter what, whether we have extra Christmas or vacation expenses or not.
If you’re looking for a place that makes it easy for you to give regularly to people in need, I recommend the WFP. Also, this week fellow Christian blogger Alise Wright is hosting a month-long birthday celebration for herself, which is not nearly as self-serving as it sounds, because her celebration consists of matching donations that readers make to Nuru International, a group that gives micro-loans to people living in extreme poverty. Go check out Alise’s blog, wish her happy birthday, and make a donation to Nuru while you’re at it.
And if you have anything to add to this conversation—about tithing, charitable giving, or your family’s annoying need to insist on dinner every night—please chime in!