At DBTC the badminton court is currently out of action: this is partly because termites are steadily munching their way through the floor boards but primarily because the room is piled high with boxes of books which were sent as charitable donations from the US.
On first appearances, this is a very generous gesture. Most of the books are educational textbooks, sent, undoubtedly, with the very best of intentions to support the education of students in a poorer part of the world. So far, so good. The problem is that, while some of them may be useful, a majority of the books are completely irrelevant and inappropriate, including textbooks for American citizenship courses detailing the minutiae of the American political system, and manuals for outdated computer programmes which are no longer used, not even here. What is more, because the collection is so indiscriminate and disorganized, even those resources which could potentially be useful, take time and energy to find, time and energy which may be better used elsewhere.
Someone has spent a lot of money sending a lot of books which might end up on a bonfire. It is a lesson in the importance of a process of reflection about charitable giving: ensuring donations are directed, appropriate and useful to the recipients. But there are other lessons to be learnt in the badminton court too.
Reflecting a little further, while the shipment of books initially seems very generous, many of the books are clearly out-dated. These are not resources schools in the US are currently using and wish to share with those in the under-funded Philippine Education system: they are books that are no longer wanted and are cluttering up space. They are a gift from our surplus, from what we no longer want or need. They are a gift of that which is no longer good enough for us, but it will do for you. They are a gift which can be given freely because it won’t actually have any impact on our life.
We allow those things that are really worth something to us to touch and shape and change us. If something is really valuable, we give to it not from our surplus but from the depth of our being. Be it time, money, or emotion, what we give to our family and friends comes from deep within our realities, not from what we have left over. If we really care about those receiving our charity, should not the same be true?
When something or someone is really valuable to us, we are prepared to give all that we have; knowing that what we receive in return will more than repay the outlay. Perhaps if we dare to take the risk; giving not of our surplus but from somewhere deep inside ourselves, the return will be beyond what we had imagined; maybe this is what is asked of us when we read “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 38)