“Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.”
There is an ugly side to the Christian nonprofit world.
I see many organizations exploiting poverty and the people they serve to sell the needs to their donors.
The more dramatic the video, the more extreme the poverty, the more despairing the story, the more money they are able to raise.
This causes organizations and ministries to sell poverty, to present a one-sided picture of people and places.
This is why many of us are surprised when we go to Africa and there are bustling cities with technology, innovation, and development or when we go to urban communities and see indigenous leaders doing significant work. We have been sold a single story.
While guilt and pity may motivate more people to give, we believe dignity, equity and love are better. Organizations may justify it as getting people to do the right thing for the wrong reason, but it often perpetuates stereotypes and can be paternalistic and dehumanizing to those we want to help. Not only that, it causes donors to be dehumanized in the process too, and for them to be seen only for the checks they can write rather than the full human beings they are.
You may notice we don’t put photos of poverty or homelessness or littered streets in our newsletters. You may notice we often tell stories of the resilience, strength, and faith of our neighbors. You may notice there are more pics of community members doing life, sharing meals, and walking alongside one another. You may notice that our newsletters are more about informing our donors about the complex issues that are part of life in the city and how the gospel challenges all of us to respond.
That’s how we prefer it. This better reflects the mutuality at the heart of mission. We believe this is more dignifying for everyone and more in line with Christ’s love. We aren’t here to peddle poverty, we are here to embody love. Thank you for partnering with us to affirm the dignity of our communities!
Shawn Casselberry is Executive Director of Mission Year, the author of God is in the City, and the co-author of the forth-coming Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community, and Change. He lives with his wife, Jen and dog Colin in North Lawndale, Chicago. Follow him on Twitter to read more.