Around Thanksgiving time, many people thank God for the blessings He’s given them and look to pay His gifts forward to causes they believe in. Our giving reflects the heart of our Creator God, who did not withhold even His own Son from us! (Romans 8:32) IFI depends on God to supply everything we need–physically, spiritually, financially, relationally–to do the work He’s commissioned us to do. He supplies our needs by giving through you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, linking your hearts and your resources to His work through IFI.

Because giving is an integral part of IFI’s mission and vision, we present this article to share what we’ve learned about the complexities of giving, challenge you to examine your giving, and equip you to evaluate its effectiveness. Why? Because we care about your heart, where giving begins. We want you to be confident that your gifts are accomplishing what God wants you to accomplish. When we surrender our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about giving to God, we invite the Holy Spirit to direct one of the most important aspects of our lives.

This article is intended to guide us to examine our thoughts and emotions about our giving and ask the hard question, “Will my gift help or hurt?” In our hearts, we know that changing lives takes more than money. It requires personal interaction, engagement, and spending our lives to meet real needs (see Isaiah 58 about God’s chosen fast)–the very aspects of IFI’s work with internationals.

We look at some ways to avoid giving blindly and present thoughts on giving to support international student ministries such as IFI. We do this to challenge and encourage our readers to go for God’s best as they invest to advance the kingdom of our praiseworthy King. Reader, may the eternal rewards for your giving bring you joy forever!

Amazing Generosity

Many people give in awe-inspiring ways. When natural catastrophes occur, immediate relief is necessary. People respond generously to provide money, food, water, material goods, blood and on-site service. People in the US are also known for sending used clothing, school supplies, Christmas boxes, and teams serving in other countries. When it comes to long-range development, governments and NGOs have generously poured over $1 trillion in benevolent aid into areas like Africa during the past 50 years (Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton, pp. 94-95).

Toxic Giving

Lupton tell us, “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them” (TC, p. 3). Awe-inspiring generosity doesn’t always accomplish what it intends. Continuously sending food, supplies, and aid for rebuilding to people affected by a hurricane or an earthquake years after the disaster occurred can be harmful. If the transition from relief to long-term development doesn’t happen in a timely way, compassion can become toxic.

While well-meaning, many trips to do projects to aid the poor in other countries fail to strengthen the local people, stimulate healthy cross-cultural relationships, improve quality of life, or eliminate poverty. Instead, they do the opposite – weaken the people, nurture dishonest relationships, erode the recipients’ work ethic, escalate dependency, and undermine the local economy. In fact, local people can often do most of the work more skillfully than volunteers, in less time, with better results.

The Heart of God

So should we stop giving and serving others? Absolutely not! God’s heart is a giving heart, and He modeled our hearts after His own. We’re created to give. We feel good – even great joy – when we give!

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). He is the great Giver of all life, our Creator who owns everything. He doesn’t need anything from us! He instructs and commands us to give – gladly, generously, regularly, and gratefully. (Fifteen percent of what Jesus said relates to money and possessions!) Here are some of His words about giving:

  • “Give to him who asks of you” (Matt. 5:42).
  • “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
  • “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21).

Why does He command us to give? Money often tries to take the center of our lives! When we stop money from making decisions for us, we break free from money’s oppression so that we may serve God and others.

By giving to others, we give to God. “Others” are His stand-ins. He has special concern for the poor who stand in to receive for Him. What we do to the least of these, we do to Him (Matt. 25:34-46).

Overcoming the Dilemma

Our dilemma: We were designed to give and to feel great joy when we give, but our giving can sometimes have negative consequences! Here are some questions to ask and tips for evaluating the effects of giving in general to ensure that gifts help, not hurt:

  • Does the appeal address a crisis or a chronic situation?
  • What kind of help is most appropriate – immediate relief or a long-term gift of time, guidance, and investment in individuals’ lives?
  • Could local resources meet the needs as well or better than outside help?
  • Does this work have a leadership-development component to empower the beneficiaries to take over, run, and own the work themselves? Are leaders emerging from those who are served?

To evaluate the organization that is asking you for money:

  • Does the organization’s mission align well with the passions God has put in your heart?
  • Who owns or runs the organization? Is it connected with a municipality, business, church, or denomination?
  • Does the organization’s web site post their Annual Report and Tax form 990 to show how money is spent?
  • Does the organization evaluate their work regularly and publish the results? Are they actually doing what they’ve purposed to do?
  • Check online reviews: How are the organization and its work rated by the Better Business Bureau, by its volunteers, and by the people they minister to?
  • Does the organization’s work honor God? (The work of some non-faith-based organizations does honor God.)
  • Does their work help people know God or does it offer help without God’s life-transforming message?
  • Are the organization’s mission and vision statements in line with your values, or do they advocate causes you can’t agree with?
  • Do they publish a newsletter that you can access online?

(See more resources listed at the end of this article.)

Why Give to International Student Ministries such as IFI?

In Toxic Charity, Lupton advises, “There is no simple or immediate way to discern the right response [to an appeal for help] without a relationship” and “If you don’t have time to invest in forging a trusting relationship, give your money to a ministry that does.” If the need is chronic, there are church programs/ministries and social service agencies ready to help those who want to change. Give to them – they do the screening.” (pp 48-49)

IFI’s ministry among the students is neither relief nor crisis management. In fact, IFI and other international student ministries (ISMs) do not support students financially with direct gifts, grants, or loans. We do step in to arrange translation, visitation, transportation, and meals for families of students in crises such as an auto crash, a baby born to students whose family cannot come to help, a suicide, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Example: When two of the students they’d hosted developed terminal cancer, one host family in Columbus stayed by their students and hosted their family members, right through their funerals.

Until about 15 years ago, most international students came from large families who supported them with love and care but had little money. The students arrived with two suitcases and could afford only a barely furnished apartment, which they shared with two or three other students, and had few resources to eat out, travel, or enjoy expensive cultural experiences. This still describes international students from certain countries. But today many students come from very small, wealthy families. They buy a car soon after they arrive, shop online for furniture and pay to have it delivered, eat often in restaurants, and take cruises or travel at every opportunity.

However, God has a heart for all who are “poor in spirit” as well as those lacking material resources. He loves “strangers,” “foreigners,” or “internationals,” people from faraway places. He commands us to befriend and show hospitality to these people. Hebrews 13:2 admonishes, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”

Generous gifts given to IFI are not given directly to students, but are used to support the outreach of our staff, to train Christians in local churches, and to facilitate building and maintaining friendships with our international friends. We also use gifts to start ISM work on new campuses where there are many international students.

The gifts IFI gives to international students are love, friendship, temporary housing with host families, help with English, help moving to a new apartment and finding affordable used furniture and household goods, help for international couples and families, special events, and time with our volunteers. The one-on-one friendships that IFI facilitates can help students make it through homesickness and culture shock, navigate the unfamiliar culture, and form relationships that may last a lifetime. In return, students introduce IFI volunteers and staff to their families, their customs, their hopes and dreams, surprises, and griefs. Many students receive the gift of faith in God and become a blessing to their own country by telling their countrymen about our loving Creator. It’s impossible to put a price on this exchange of gifts, yet donors make it all possible!

If you would like to learn more about IFI and how we use generous gifts to honor God, please visit our Financial Accountability webpage. If you would like to give a gift to IFI’s ministry, you can do so here.

Tips for Giving

We hope you will take your concerns about giving to God and allow Him to help you decide what causes to support and at what amount. Here are some practical tips to aid you as you plan to give.

Paul urges us to give: systematically (1 Cor 16:2), proportionately (2 Cor 8:12), vertically (2 Cor 9:11-13) and cheerfully (2 Cor 9:7). Financial advisors recommend that we take Paul’s principles to heart and mind by being intentional, i.e., having a personal plan. Here’s a simple one (thanks to Scott Morton):

  1. Project your amount of income for the year
  2. Determine your monthly/annual giving
  3. Decide what to include: your local fellowship, family, ministries/overseas aid, benevolence/the poor, education, other and spontaneous amounts to give monthly and annually (select according to personal interest and using due diligence)
  4. Spouses must agree

Resources for evaluating charities and ministries:

Additional resources for further thought, study and application

  • PovertyCure: Poverty, Inc. (Video)
  • Alcorn, Randy, The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, Multnomah Publishers
  • Corbett, Steve and Fikkert, Brian, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself, Moody Publishers
  • Kopke, Jonathan, God’s Thrifty Extravagance: Understanding What the Bible Says About Money, Discovery House Publishers
  • Lupton, Robert D., Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It), Harper One