The truth is, giving to the poor is nearly always impractical. Try as you might, you cannot control others, you can’t make them use the money the way that you want them to. You can’t make the medicine work, or the surgery to take, and even when it does, you can’t make people stay alive.
I wrote a few months ago A Case for Generosity in which I made the claim: “Being generous is so close to being loved that for the average Kwakum, they are indistinguishable.” My conclusion to this blog post was that, as Christians, when considering all of the variables for giving, we should make generosity a priority. I used in this argument a case study of a little boy named Patrick who was born with hydrocephalus. His family asked me to help get him a surgery and we decided to give. We found that our giving in this case conveyed great love to our neighbors, and especially to this family.
Over the course of the last six months we have been able to see Patrick and his family. His mother, Natalie is always beaming. Patrick’s skull never went back into a normal shape. I saw them both at the meeting on March 30th and thought we should look into getting him a helmet. He was a bit delayed, not holding his head up yet. But our doctor friend told us that such a delay was normal, expected. I have overall been very excited, feeling like this was one of the ways that the Lord was making headway into the culture. I felt like people could see that their own cultural expectations were limited. And Patrick has always seemed happy.
Then, last Tuesday, someone came to the house and told us that Patrick had died. I didn’t really believe it at first. I ran down to Patrick’s uncle’s house, where people were gathered. Natalie was weeping loudly as another woman was cleaning and dressing Patrick’s body. His father was crying, and people were gathering to begin their funeral rituals. Watching his little lifeless body I just felt so desperately sad. I was so sad for Natalie, who tenderly cared for him in his short life. And I was just so sad to see yet another evidence of the power that sin and death wield in this life.
My conversations with people in the village have made this even more difficult. There is not really a good word for ‘sad’ in Kwakum. The phrase that I used on the day of Patrick’s death was Ni’i nɛ soŋ. ‘I have sadness/anger.’ As you can see, the word soŋ can mean sadness or anger, and it usually means anger. When I said this to Patrick’s uncle, he said, “Well of course, you gave all that money in vain.” He was not the only one to say so, in fact most of my conversations concerning Patrick have reflected this same thinking: you gave for nothing.