Originally published here.
I was getting ready to leave for a trip to Kenya a couple of years ago when a church emailed and asked if Mercy House had any specific needs. I quickly responded and told them I wanted to give Maureen, our Kenyan Director, an iPhone so we could communicate during (almost weekly) power outages. I told them if they would buy one instead, we could use the money for other needed items.
On the church’s Facebook feed a few days later, I saw an appeal that said something like, “We want to support a ministry with a used iPhone. If you have an old one you can donate, please let us know.”
I was given an older iPhone a week later. On the ground in Kenya, I realized it wouldn’t hold a charge for more than 10 minutes. The phone was junk.
So, when I left Kenya, I gave Maureen my used one that worked.
The church contacted me after the trip and asked how Maureen liked her new phone. I told them it was useless and said, “Don’t worry about it. I gave her mine.”
“Oh, we feel badly, please let us replace your phone! We want to buy you a brand new one, an upgrade. You deserve it,” I told them I used my husband’s upgrade and already had a replacement phone. “OK. Instead we would like to write you a $500 check for the inconvenience.”
Give it to Maureen, I said.
And they did.
While the church tried to make it right, I was bothered by the fact they were more than willing to buy me a new phone I didn’t need. I have noticed this mentality permeates the church as a whole: The poor will be happy with our leftovers. They don’t know any better. They live in Africa or Honduras, they don’t need the latest technology or the best brands like we do. They will appreciate anything we give because something is more than nothing.
Why do we give others—often those in service to the poor or the poor themselves—something we wouldn’t keep or give ourselves?
Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want, and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.
It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor.
There’s nothing wrong with used or second-hand. It’s often my first and favorite choice. Many organizations and ministries depend on used gifts. But if we give used, it should be our best. I’m not saying when we clean out older clothes or toys or things we don’t use any longer and donate them—that this is wrong. I am saying if we give it away, it should be something we would use ourselves.
The poor may not have wealth, but they have dignity. I’ve met people without electricity or running water who swept their dirt floors daily, pressed their clothes neatly, walked miles to work on muddy roads, dodging sewage, and never had a speck of dirt on them. They value their own worth, we should too.
I’ll never forget meeting a woman in Africa who supported her large family by reselling used clothes from America. But when she held up clothes to show me what was for sale—clothes Americans had donated in clothing drives—they were tattered and stained. I was embarrassed.