The following is an excerpt from a piece by César García (Mennonite World Conference) and David Wiebe (International Community of Mennonite Brethren), originally published in The Church in Mission, edited by Victor Wiens (MB Mission). Thanks to Vic we are able to present the full article online. In addition to this excerpt on sharing gifts, the authors discuss the goals, culture, and challenges to mission partnership. They also offer guiding principles for partnerships. An appendix outlines further principles identified by ICOMB and MB Mission.
An Understanding of Sharing Gifts
Material and Non-material*
Material gifts include created things—plants, animals, minerals, our world itself—as well as things created from these by humans—goods, products, money, etc.
Non-material gifts include special capacities, skills, and “talents”—things that result in the ability to do almost anything: carpentry, food preparation, music, arts, business activity, farming, science, etc. Time is a non-material gift. Spiritual gifts fit here: all those things used in and by the church to “build up the body until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:11–16).
A conversation somewhere in the “global south” went something like this. “What do you need (from our global church family)?” The list of largely material category items grew quickly. Then the question was asked, “What do you have to offer to the church?” Silence ensued. And then a little prompting elicited a list of some non-material gifts this church could offer.
In global partnerships we need to give credit to both categories because of disparity in the material realm. Some parts of the world are more gifted in non-material areas, and less so in the material category. Since material gifts are easily observed and evaluated, it is also easy to develop prejudice toward their intrinsic value, over against the value of people without an abundance of material gifts, and the value of their contribution.
“Need” is not the opposite of “Gift”
We tend to think that need is the opposite of gift. But Tshimika and Lind propose otherwise. If all are gifted, then “need” plays a different role.
Needs are not the opposite of gifts, but are much more intimately related. Why do the hungry need food and the sick need healing? So that the gifts God has endowed them with can be nurtured and can in turn be given. We could say that gifts “need” other gifts so that they in turn can be given. What we call a “need” then, can in fact be seen as a cry of invitation from a gift that is trapped and cannot be released or given.*
Need is thus the vital link between gifts. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:21–22, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” We do well to reflect on the implication: we actually need the weaker members of the body. Need actually mobilizes gifts.
But we must be creative and thoughtful—need does not always dictate the kind of gift to be mobilized. Needs can awaken gifts, sometimes those not currently being used. Without needs there can be no gifts.
Gifts are meant to be “shared”, not merely “given”
This follows closely, for example, behind the theory of need. In Africa, a strong funeral tradition is community sharing. Everyone comes, and all bring what they can—money, food, livestock, clothes, singing or a lengthy eulogy. All gifts have one central purpose: not to enrich the family of the deceased, but to build a stronger community. The gifts allow the family to take care of the needs to those who come to visit, of course, but the telos is that the bonds of the community be strengthened.
Sharing carries relational freight. When gifts are shared, rather than simply “given”, the world of the giver and receiver are made to overlap. Sharing implies that all of the parties become involved with each other.
For this reason it is difficult to share (rather than merely give) material gifts. They are too mobile, and too easily separated from the giver and from the relationship. Unless, of course, material gifts take on a relational value because they are objects that can be viewed frequently, reminding one of the relationship. Then their value lies in their provenance, and because of who used them or gave them, not intrinsic cost.
Of all material gifts, money is the most mobile, the most detachable, and therefore the least relational. Money is disconnected and mercurial. One easily gives money instead of sharing one’s life in friendship.
But since it is essential for acquiring certain things we give it more value than it deserves. In conversations like the one above in the “global south,” it becomes apparent that we do this rather instinctively. Christians may offer “mature faith,” “trust in God,” and “the power of prayer” but somehow underneath, there is a feeling that these “don’t really count” in comparison with what money can do. This is felt by all—not just the rich or poor. As Paul put it, “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Discounting the non-material gifts of our brother or sister is one such evil.
We realize our inter-connected potential in gift-sharing
The human relationship is enriched with the sharing of gifts. In every family, there are special occasions when we celebrate by sharing gifts. The mutual exchange may provide a much-needed item of clothing or a tool. Or we share to enhance beauty. No matter what gifts are shared, however, such sharing is designed to gladden the heart and reinforce the love between us. Can you imagine a relationship without sharing gifts?
In the global family of faith, the same principle applies. Global partnerships are simply frameworks of relationship designed to mobilize gifts through need-detection, and thereby gladden our hearts and raise the love-factor between us.
*Pakisa Tshimika and Tim Lind, Sharing Gifts in the Global Family of Faith (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2003), 24–25. Their observation about Time as a gift is insightful. “It is as though, in some parts of our world, time has been fully transformed from gift into a commodity”—i.e. from immaterial to material! (28).
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Some things have to be added.
1. Individuals have different amounts of needs and gifts. Not everyone has to give as much as everyone else.
2. There are a lot of individuals who actually don’t need a lot of other individuals. Not everyone needs everyone.
3. Building strong communities by sharing gifts is not as harmless as it sounds. Societies often are better off if they allow people to pile up and invest money than if they demand that everything is distributed (and probably consumed).