If you have lived in a developing or recovering country as a westerner, you no doubt have experienced a plethora of requests. Requests come from people at the street lights asking for money, a person with a sick child asking for assistance to send their child out of country for medical care, or someone needing a new roof for their home or money to start a business. The requests are numerous and knowing how to respond can become quite stressful.
In the culture where I reside, there is always a sense of urgency. “I need the money NOW, so and so is waiting for it,” or, “My child is getting sicker,” or, “My roof is leaking.” All requests needed to be fulfilled yesterday. The people have made an art of putting pressure on you to act immediately and to manipulate your thoughts and actions.
I’m one of those “softies” that tend to trust people more quickly than mistrust them, especially if they’re crying and showing me photos of their situation. I give in to their requests much more easily than I should. This has gotten me into trouble in the past. It’s resulted in a loss of much money, and damage was done to the person asking by encouraging dependency on others instead of taking responsibility for meeting their own needs.
These situations are not unlike what Joshua experienced with the Gibeonites. In Joshua 9 the Gibeonites, out of fear for their lives, deceived Joshua and the elders. Even though they were a powerful neighboring city, a group of Gibeonites dressed up in worn out clothes and sandals, grabbed some old wine skins and stale bread, and dragged themselves into Joshua’s camp seeking a covenant with the Israelites. They claimed that they had come from a far away land and had heard of the mighty God of Israel. They said they wanted to partner with the Israelites by serving them. The Gibeonites were manipulative and expressed a sense of urgency in verse 11: We are your servants; NOW then, make a covenant with us. Joshua and the men fell into their trap in verses 14-15: So the men of Israel took some of their provisions and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. Three days later, the Israelites learned that the city of Gibeon was just around the corner from them. But they were stuck; they couldn’t go back on their promise because they had made an oath in the presence of the Lord.
Every time Joshua had waited on the Lord, the Lord gave the Israelites instruction and blessed them. But this time, Joshua didn’t take that time to do that. He learned a great lesson, one that is applicable for us today.
As a CAMA team, we discussed this and decided to adopt “The Gibeonite Policy.” Whenever a request comes in, we tell the requester that we need at least 24 hours to seek the will of our God on the matter. They can return the next day for the answer. If they will not respect our desire to pray about it first but continue to pressure us, then they will not receive assistance from us.
“The Gibeonite Policy” also helps us follow Robert Lupton’s guidelines for effectively helping the poor. He outlines these in his Oath for Compassionate Service that he describes in his book Toxic Charity (Lupton, 2011,p. 8-9):
- Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
- Limit one way giving to emergency situations.
- Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
- Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
- Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
- Above all, do no harm.
As we seek the Lord for wisdom, we bring Him into the decision, taking the pressure off of ourselves. It helps us to see the real heart of the requester and know the most effective way to help them without causing them greater harm. Most of all, it gives God glory – and that is our main goal.
Lupton, R. D. (2011). Toxic charity: how churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it) (pp. 8-9). New York, NY: HarperOne.