Dangerous Charity

Jewish tradition teaches that charitable giving creates a pathway for blessings to flow back to the giver, says Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of Thou Shall Prosper. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But some efforts to help actually hurt the recipient. Steve Saint calls any effort to help the poor that attracts more people into poverty “dangerous charity.” [1]

Steve was born and raised in Ecuador by his missionary parents. He founded and leads the ministry I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center) with the vision of finding better ways of doing missions.

An example he uses of dangerous charity is North Americans who “try to care for the needs of orphans in cultures different from our own. If you build really nice orphanages and provide good food and a great education, lots more children in those places become orphans…When we attempt to eradicate poverty through charity, we often attract more people into ‘needing’ charity. It is possible to create need where it did not exist by projecting our standards, values and perception of need onto others.”

When I first read how Old Testament Joseph handled the starving Egyptians, he seemed cold. The Egyptians suffered, not because of anything they’d done wrong. A famine had caused the problem.  On further thought, I see Joseph’s wisdom. He was avoiding dangerous charity.

Joseph served as Pharaoh’s agent.

Joseph didn’t own the storehouses of grain. He had to give an account to Pharaoh on how he dispersed the food. We’re God’s agents. Recognizing that we also will give account of how we manage His resources should guide our decisions.

Joseph was far-sighted. When the people’s money was gone, he didn’t say, “Sorry, no money, no food.” Neither did he allow pity or guilt to rule over wisdom and say, “Don’t worry, Pharaoh will take care of you.” He creatively accepted other commodities in exchange for food.

A local ministry illustrated this principle. A man brought pizza to the community park in a housing project. The neighborhood children were jubilant. The benefactor taught them how to give thanks for their food and how to take care of their playground.

He asked if they wanted pizza again next week. “Yes!” they cheered.

“To get pizza, you must keep the park picked up this week. If the park is clean, I’ll bring pizza.”

They did. And he did.

What would happen if our government told subsidized families, your child will get a free lunch at school on the days they turn in their homework? Instead of dumping the free food in the trash, would the students appreciate their meals if they worked for them? Would they be proud of their reward instead of feeling like a charity case? Would the family get involved in their child’s education?

I’m not sure. But the Bible says: “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either,” (2 Thes. 3:10, NASB).

Joseph didn’t just hand out free food to people with legitimate needs. He required they give something in return. He protected their character. They responded with gratitude instead of resentment or or a sense of entitlement, (Gen. 47:25).

A familiar proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for life.” Look at the long-term effect of your giving. Are you helping them for the long run or only for the moment?

Click here to comment.


Debbie Wilson

Deborah W. Wilson

Photo by: CraneStation

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[1] https://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/projecting-poverty-where-it-doesnt-exist

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  1. Keita Ikeda


    Charitable giving to just meet the needs of the day are over. Many forward thinking organizations now are thinking in terms of developing industries and businesses in the indigenous cultures to provide jobs, which are in the end sustainable.

    I don’t give my personal wealth just to see it go through the hands of the recipient, just to see it then go back to whoever is supplying the equipment and supplies.

    No, the future of charity and helping eradicate poverty is capitalism. Anyone not doing so is contributing to the problem, as you pointed out, and books such as “addicted to aid” has painfully made clear.

    South Korea and Nigeria were in equal economic standing in 1995. Nigeria got a huge influx of USAID and other charitable giving, whereas South Korea got an industrial complex to supply the needs of US military efforts in Vietnam (and so did Japan).

    Which country did better? Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Bono of US, who heads the “one” NGO all agree with this view, if you’re looking for affirmation.

    So I give seed money, literally. And the word if the day is “sustainability” and Tamils transfer. That’s why I go to Uganda to teach.

    There are many well meaning folks. As you pointed out, sometimes helping hurts.


    • Debbie Wilson

      Keita, Thank you for developing this more. It is amazing how much wisdom is in the ancient Scriptures if we will only apply it to today.

  2. Keita Ikeda

    Skills transfer. Sorry for the typo

  3. Keita Ikeda

    1955, not 1995. iPhone not conducive to typing

    • Debbie Wilson

      Isn’t that the truth! My thumbs don’t work well on those small keys. Thanks for the update.

  4. Ann

    I absolutely love this Debbie! I agree – requiring something of the person restores dignity and changes their status from victim to participator! I notice it in my coaching – people do not value what they get for nothing! They think they want everything free, but then it means nothing to them.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, we’ve noticed the same thing. When you contribute what you can you feel better about yourself and you work harder.

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