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Author: Cath Taylor

“You got me a what?”

Uncle Earl is squinting at your card, breath a little yeasty from the Christmas pudding, and frankly, he’s disappointed. It was socks he wanted. Seriously. Socks. Or a fishing magazine. He also had his eye on a new case for his iphone.

You got him a goat.

“Well, it’s for a family in Zimbabwe, see?” you tell him, a little flustered. “They’ll breed the goats and with the money they can get for them at the market, they’ll send their kids to school. It’s pretty cool, actually.”

Uncle Earl looks sceptical. He doesn’t actually say it, but what he’s thinking – you can see it on his face – is: “So you got me nothing. You got them goats, but you got me nothing.”

Let’s face it: not everyone loves goats, and not everyone gets the idea that you bought them something for someone else. (And actually, some people genuinely need socks).

So here you are, with your desire to do something to change the world this Christmas, and a cranky Uncle. What to do… what to do?

Look, buy Uncle Earl the socks. Buy your seven year old nephew that game he wanted, but maybe not the really flashy one. And tell him the true story of a gift that transforms lives.  Start it with the birth of a child.  But don’t end it there.

Tell him about Amos, who’ll spend the days before Christmas in his ute in South Sudan, bucketing along some of the worst roads you can imagine. He’s travelling to spend time in communities who’ve seen their neighbours literally torn apart by violence. This is Amos’ whole life’s work, devoted to helping people understand and listen to one another, learning to forgive and move on from decades of a war that doesn’t just live in army fatigues but stalks people’s homes and lives in people’s minds. This gift of reconciliation – a microcosm of something even grander – is the ongoing story that begins with the cradle.

If the people you know and love won’t appreciate the idea behind a goat, don’t give up. Simply make your donation directly to the work of someone who continues to live the Christmas story – every day, in some of the  most difficult parts of our globe.

Christmas isn’t just about making sure your nearest and dearest have everything they need. Christmas is about being swept up in a powerful gift of love and sharing that as far and wide as you can.  Every single one of us.

If goats are your thing and also Uncle Earl’s – check out our gifts here at www.everythingincommon.com

If you want to be generous because it’s Christmas and you believe in a world less hungry and more hopeful, please give here.  https://www.unitingworld.org.au/donate

Either way, know that you’ve honoured the Giver.  Thank you so much.

Coming soon:

Questions my hairdresser asks: how do you even know they get the money?

“My letterbox is full of guide dogs and children in refugee camps and blind people and endangered orangutans and Royal lifesavers (complete with budgie smugglers) and still you keep coming.

 You keep asking me for money.

 Don’t get me wrong. I like your cause. I believe in what you’re doing. But seriously, why so clingy? Why so persistent? There’s only so much a person can take.”

I hear you, people.

In fact, I work for one of those causes you sometimes want to break up with because our never-ending requests for money, like some teenager with an online shopping addiction, are getting you down. You can’t quite bring yourself to cut us off because either you can’t find our phone number or you still believe in us. (I’m hoping it’s the latter.) Please keep believing in us. We want you to know that we really appreciate your gifts, we understand that you can’t always give and we don’t want you to feel guilty when you can’t donate.  

But here’s why we keep asking you for money.

  1. We ask because your money is doing amazing things. You’re part of a community who are changing lives.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your financial gift, combined with others, has genuinely saved the lives of thousands of people. I mean, seriously.  You should be quietly pretty chuffed with yourself!  It’s given hope to whole communities, changed the future for children, allowed mothers to hold their babies in their arms when they would otherwise have died. You don’t bear the needs and pains of the world on your shoulders alone, but together with others, you’re helping create a world where that suffering is lifted.    No matter the size of your gift, when you combine with others, it’s powerful. Thank you so much!

  1. We ask because the people we work with really, seriously need it.

We are not messing around when we describe to you the needs of the people with whom we work. Compared to the way we live, our partners struggle with challenges impossible for us to comprehend. War. Filthy water. Systemic injustice and corrupt politics. Crushing poverty. Disability without health care. Sometimes, when we spend time in communities, we think to ourselves: if our supporters saw all this – both the grind and the sheer grit of our partners – we would never need to ask for money again. People would simply give. But sadly, it doesn’t work like that. We are not routinely as generous as we think we are and the world is ridiculously unequal. The latest stats show that the world’s 63 richest people own more wealth than 50% of the global population. We ask because if we didn’t, that stat would continue to grow. Even you and I, simply having a roof above our heads, running water in our homes, enough to eat and clothes to wear fall into the top 15% of the world’s wealthiest people.  Most of you know that already.  But some of us need reminding.

  1. We ask because “if we don’t ask, we don’t get”.

Boil it right down and if we don’t repeatedly ask you to be generous, we simply don’t get the money we need. So we ask. And we ask again. Each time, our supporters open their hearts and give with a generosity that amazes us. And we are grateful beyond belief. Of course, we know that in continuing to ask, we risk tiring some of our supporters. But we continue to put needs before you because the needs are great, and miraculously, people continue to give. (FYI, all our financials are here.)

Here’s some tips to keep our relationship fresh (because everyone needs hot tips now and then!)

1. We hope you won’t see every request you get in the mail as an attempt to twist your arm for cash. We have no expectation that every person will give every time, but asking reminds those who are able to do what they can. When you can’t give, please use the material to get informed and inspired about the work. Pass it on to someone else or use it to pray for the people we’re writing to you about. We use environmentally friendly, recycled print materials, but we’d love you to recycle too and spread our material around rather than simply throwing it out – leave it in your church, your train station or your dentist’s waiting room!  We don’t send you things you don’t need like bags, pens or stickers, but we hope you’ll use what we do send to stay connected to the people you support in knowledge, prayer and advocacy.  This in itself is a great gift to our partners.

2. If you really prefer not to receive material from us in the mail, give us a quick call or email and let us know. But please stay in touch via email and through our newsletters.

3. Consider becoming a regular giver. This works best for our partners, who know they can rely on steady income instead of repeated requests for fundraising. And it works best for you, because you have the chance to develop some depth of understanding about the project and people you’re supporting. If you like, you can request only to receive material about special appeals and faithfully commit to one project as a Regular Giver.  But remember, receiving our material can also keep you up to date even if you’re not able to give.

4. Think about other ways you can connect with communities who are benefitting so much from your support. You could volunteer or visit them through our InSolidarity trips. We have so much to learn from being part of the lives of others. Giving is a two way street.

Thanks for sticking with us. We hope this honest answer to your question encourages you not to feel guilty about your giving, and explains why we continue to ask. Please know that we take great care with your gifts and appreciate your generosity. Most of all, the people to whom you give appreciate it more than we’ll ever know.

Right now, yes, we have an excellent opportunity for you to give!

When you give to our Community Development Programs, we’re able to make your gift go up to six times as far because it’s matched by Government Funding.  This makes your donation, whatever its size, much more powerful than usual.

Please consider making a gift before June 30 for the most impact.  Donate here. And thank you!

Why should we send money overseas to look after others while some of our own homeless, indigenous people and elderly aren’t adequately cared for?

Great question.   “Charity begins at home” and there are still far too many people in Australia who live in poverty.

Most Australians agree that we should put our own people first and believe me: we do.

In our Federal Budget,  98.8% of all our spending is currently directed at looking after Aussies: Australian health care, education, welfare, defence spending and so on.

But what about the other *1.22%? Should we dedicate our entire budget exclusively to Australians until we all have a standard of living we find acceptable?

A couple of things to think about.

If 98.8% won’t fix it, 100% probably won’t either.

Unfortunately, we could probably spend every last cent of our budget domestically and at least some of these same problems would persist. Why? There are lots of reasons but in general, problems like intergenerational poverty and homelessness are highly complex. It’s possible that no amount of cash alone can solve them. While we can always do better, if directing 98.8% of the budget internally hasn’t completely solved the problem, it’s unlikely that 100% will fix it either. This means we need to work harder and smarter at addressing these complex issues, but the fact that they currently still exist may not be a good argument for withholding all assistance to other desperate people simply because not every Australian has the standard of living we’d like.

It’s an interesting fact that some of Australia’s most disadvantaged people are among its most generous when it comes to giving to others.  Maybe we really can spare that 1.22% for people living in truly desperate situations in other parts of the globe.

Hello, neighbour.

Gone are the days when we could think of ourselves as an island. These days the world is more like a street. So imagine this: you can get your own house in order, but if a couple of the neighbours are in trouble, it won’t be long before their situation has an impact.   If our neighbours are in conflict, there’s a chance our children will get caught up in it while walking home from school, and even if we try to avoid the area, our relative wealth isn’t going to un-noticed. The way we live – particularly if we flash it around while others are desperately struggling –  is likely to cause jealousy and tension in the ‘hood, possibly even thefts or break-ins if people are desperate enough.  And if our neighbours get seriously sick and we do nothing to help, we’ll almost certainly be caught up in the outbreak sooner or later. As our neighbours grow poorer, our real estate prices may fall and our own financial stability will suffer.

That’s how the globe operates too. Even from a purely selfish perspective, it’s to our benefit to live in a more stable world; one that helps countries develop peacefully and equally so that extreme ideas are less likely to get a foothold – the seed bed for terrorism. It’s to our benefit to keep working worldwide against easily communicated diseases; to help hose down conflicts so that they don’t swallow up whole regions; to work for peace and stability between nations so that the economy grows and trade benefits us all.

Aid in all forms – whether it’s assisting refugees, sending development experts, peacekeepers or cash – assists all this. Our world is becoming more and more inter-connected. It’s no longer an option to suggest none of this is our problem when it quite clearly has an impact on our wellbeing and the future wellbeing of our children.

 

How much bang for your buck?

In theory, most people would be reluctant to suggest that some lives matter more than others – white lives more than black, people in the west more than in other places. If we agree this is the case, we’ll want to save the most lives possible for our dollar, regardless of where they’re from.

Well, here are the facts. At home in Australia, the 1% of our budget “left over” might, for example, ‘buy’ us the lives of a hundred people.   That’s great, but in a developing nation it can save the lives of a thousand people. That’s because very simple, inexpensive changes can mean the difference between life and death for people living in developing countries.

The UK’s National Health Service considers it cost-effective to spend more than $30,000 for a single year of healthy life added to a person. By contrast, Against Malaria Foundation can distribute malaria nets and save a life at the cost of $3,340 per person. Or consider this one. It costs $40,000 to train a Guide Dog to help a blind person in the UK lead a ‘quality’ life. In the developing world, simple operations to cure trachoma induced blindness cost $20. One person with a Guide Dog vs 2000 people entirely cured. 30 lives completely saved or thirty years added to a single life.

It’s absolutely clear that spending money in the developing world is outstanding value in terms of saving lives. While our 1% may not go very far here in Australia, it goes a long, long way in other places.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes…

I like to think that the question about people in need here in Australia being disadvantaged by sending aid out of the country is asked by people who genuinely care about others – perhaps someone who knows a homeless person or who regularly visits an elderly person.   You’re a person of genuine compassion, someone with a big heart for others. The last thing to take into consideration, therefore, is this: how would you feel if you were trying to care for a homeless, elderly person or child in a country completely without all the benefits of stability, good health and democracy that Australia offers? What would it be like to live, completely by the accident of your birth, in a country where bombs fall, you could be arrested because of your beliefs, you were separated from your children or rape was used as a weapon of war? If you find your situation difficult here in Australia, how much harder would it be in another country? These are the people we are turning away when we withhold our 1.2%.

It’s the right thing to do

For me, the most compelling reason to share our 1.22% (and personally, I think we could share a lot more) is because it’s the right thing to do. We have so much. Life may not be perfect for everyone here, but maybe I can share more of my own wealth, my own time or expertise to help make it happen. And if I believe that every single person on this planet matters equally, I can’t begrudge anyone a share of the enormous abundance I inherited when, through absolutely no merit of my own, I was lucky enough to be born Australian when others were not.  It’s not just my faith that calls me to share.  It’s my simple humanity.

Combine your personal gift to end poverty with an Australian Government Aid grant and make it go six times as far.  

(1.22% of the Australian budget is indeed spent on foreign aid. Most Australians hear big numbers trotted out when talking about assisting people overseas and assume the percentage must be huge. It isn’t. It’s 1.22% of the Annual Australian Budget.)

Source http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-20/tim-costell-correct-on-budget-foreign-aid-cuts/5452698

Budget http://www.budget.gov.au/2015-16/content/bp1/html/bp1_bs5-01.htm

Profound?

I certainly fell into the Festive camp on Christmas Day, but as I surveyed a mini-tsunami of wrapping paper after the gift giving, I also found myself wondering yet again about both excess and sloth.  Even our cats (who move as little as possible under normal circumstances) hardly bothered to roll over between Christmas and New Year.  In the midst of all this, it’s pretty easy to lose the image of a child born in a backwater, growing up beside the poor and living out his call to share bread with strangers.  Even more challenging is translating the sentimentality of the Christmas season into something solid and life changing all year round.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably hoping to regain a bit of a balance now that you’ve settled back into work.  No doubt top of the list:  cutting back on excess, paying more attention to our inner lives and perhaps thinking more consistently of others.

In a couple of weeks on Feb 10, just as school goes back and most of us wonder where on earth January went, the season of Lent will begin.  Typically it’s the time in the Christian calendar to reflect on our spiritual lives in a quest for growth, forgiveness and connection. These forty days are a God-given opportunity to recalibrate:  heart, mind, spirit.

With this in mind, I’m planning to take up a Challenge through UnitingWorld’s Lent Event – attempting to live simply, reflect more deeply on my faith and act to support people working hard to free themselves from poverty.  For me and my family, it’ll be a chance to start the year right by thinking about what we eat and why, including the little luxuries we sometimes enjoy a little too much (snack foods, the occasional take- away including lunch at work, desserts, alcohol) and our reliance on technology.  We’ll donate the money we would have spent on all this to a couple of projects I’ve seen first-hand creating change in the Pacific, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

We’ll also be aiming to spend time reflecting, meditating and praying, reading and learning about our faith as well as the faith of our partners in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.  I’m often amazed by how easy it is to see people in these parts of the world as ‘needy’ and underestimate their creativity, spiritual depth and sheer courage.

Through it all, I’m hoping that February and March won’t only be times of growth for our family, but will contribute to the efforts of people who probably didn’t get a chance to lose themselves in a cheese platter this Christmas.

If you want to get involved, check out www.Lentevent.com and sign up today.  There are plenty of ideas to make Lent a time of simple living as well as action alongside some of the world’s poorest people. More resources, including an app (download it right now from the App Store and Google Play), videos and resources for children, are being added every week in the lead up to Feb 10.

Time to make plans to end the confusion?  Lent Event could be exactly what you’re looking for.