Friday, February 5, 2016

Don't Do For Them What They Can Do For Themselves--George's Post

A.   Don’t Do For Them What They Can Do For Themselves

1.    Background

One of the earliest bits of advice we received about working with members I will never forget--we were told never to do for members what they could do for themselves.   This counsel was given to us before we had really gotten started in Blantyre, and has been shared informally with us on several later occasions.   This advice came from other senior missionaries, and where they got it from, I am not certain—perhaps from their own experience, perhaps from other senior missionaries, and perhaps from others.    If taken literally, the advice makes little sense—if members can take care of themselves, there is no reason to suspect they will either ask for help or expect it.      But I think most get the idea, even if it is expressed inartfully---if members are “capable” of taking care of themselves, even if imperfectly, missionaries should not interfere.   Members should try to solve their own problems and care for their own families, even if missionaries could solve their problems easier or quicker.  It is not a bad thing for members to struggle or to go without or to face hardships or to endure delays.   The advice I found to be unsettling, seemingly at odds with one of the major purposes of our mission.   We had come to Malawi precisely for the purpose of helping local members and didn’t expect to be told to withhold our support or to run some kind of test to see if members were deserving of help.   It is not how we would approach giving service in the United States, whether the service is given gratuitously or provided in response to a request for help.    When there is an apparent need, we come together to help one another.
Yet here the counsel was to be “careful” in how we provided service.    Underlying the advice was the thought that providing service may hurt rather than help.   The advice grew, no doubt, out of what we have come to think of as one of the major tensions for those working in Malawi (and perhaps through other parts of Africa).   People in Malawi, including members, often look to others to take care of their own problems, rather than to be independent, solving problems on their own, using their own resources.   It is part and parcel with the culture of dependence that has grown up in post-colonial Africa, the concern being that giving assistance on occasion deepens the dependence of Malawians rather than helping or empowering them.  
Before considering the general soundness of the advice, it might be best to identify situations in which the advice seems right-headed.   I can think of at least four situations when it might be best to withhold service and allow members to fend for themselves or to getting help through the welfare arm of the Church: first, when it comes to problems primarily solved by the gift or lending of money;[1] second, when the help needed relates to matters of church welfare;[2] third, when the one seeking help has abused the relationship in the past, constantly turning to others for help, rather than using or developing internal resources that might be used to provide for self-help; and fourth, when there is a lesson to be taught.   I will not discuss the first two situations here, since they have been dealt with at length elsewhere.

2.    Unbalance Relationships; Unhealthy or Abusive Requests for Help

Occasionally, one meets members or has acquaintances, who constantly look to others for help, without trying to take care of themselves.   They do this because it is easy or convenient, or they just like to freeload off others, or they have trouble anticipating problems or planning—always finding themselves coming up short and not being prepared.   They may even have a perverse desire for the attention that comes from having others come together to help them, something that may give them a feeling of self-importance.   If they find someone who is a soft touch, they may call upon that person repeatedly for help.    The kind hearted frequently respond to these requests and may even do so, over and over again, out of a spirit of generosity.   They give others the benefit of the doubt and take satisfaction in being of service.   But when the service relationships are not reciprocal—but one sided—those helping may, after a while, begin to feel abused, thinking that “enough is enough,” resenting the continual requests for service.   
It is worthwhile distinguishing these one-sided relationships for what we think of as “normal friendships.”   Friends help each other out all of the time, often doing things for others, some of which call for real sacrifice; but these relationships are sustainable precisely because they are reciprocal.   Each helps the other; and as long as the give and take is roughly balanced, feelings of resentment, bitterness, and being taken advantage of do not surface.   In fact, it is precisely the mutual service characteristic of friendships that strengthens such human ties, making them different from the casual relationships we have with so many others.   Friends helps one another over and over; they rely each other; and, they have equal, balanced relationships.  

3.    When There is a Lesson To Teach

Anyone who has ever tried to teach another a skill or develop in them discipline knows that the student must at some point do it on their own.    It is not sufficient just to listen and to watch others.   Most skills can be mastered only through self-repetition—the painful but necessary process of trial and error.   Some students, after receiving instruction and seeing the desired behavior modelled, are anxious to try on their own, but others are hesitant, uncomfortable and even resistant.   They require further prodding.   If left to their own devices, they may even refuse to strike out on their own.    So those teaching must be patient—often giving more and more instruction and providing further modelling; yet at the end of the day, the fledgling must be forced from the nest.
The keys to effective teaching involve--in constant cycle-- instruction, modelling behavior, and than self-exercise—repeatd over and over again, with encouragement from the teacher—until the skill has finally been mastered.   Parents understand this process well—it is how language is taught, how children learn to walk, how the young learn to play the piano.   Indeed, it is the process by which all skills are passed from one generation to the next.   Missionaries follow the same steps when teaching investigators how to pray—they explain the basic steps of prayer, they model prayer—showing the investigator how it should be done, and then they challenge the investigator to pray on their own.   Some investigators are ready for the challenge, others require constant prodding and further instruction before they can do it on their own.[3]

4.    Other Situations

But there are countless instances when missionaries are presented with service opportunities not involving requests for money, welfare per se, curbing abusive relationships or weaning members from dependence so that they can learn “skills” or lessons.   Sometimes these opportunities arise because members ask for help, but more often they simply come up because of the difficult or trying or challenging situations in which our members find themselves.     Members need or could use a ride home from Church when the weather is inclement or when services finish late in the afternoon, as it is getting dark; members are struggling to understand precisely what their doctors are saying about an illness; members are bed-ridden and don’t’ have the money for the medicine prescribed by the local clinic or have pain medication; members have not visited with extended family for years even those they just live in a village an hour or two outside of Blantyre; members don’t know quite how to get started with their home teaching or how to teach a lesson to the families they visit; members could use help transporting their furniture from one rental property to another; members don’t have the money to purchase window frames and glass panes for a new built home and the rainy season is coming on; members have obvious medical conditions, perhaps even life-threatening ones,  requiring professional attention, but won’t go to the hospital or a doctor because they don’t have the money.   A relative has died, but the members don’t know how they can manage to get to the family home for the funeral services.    The planting season has come, but members don’t have the funds to purchase hybrid maize seed or commercial fertilizers.   A family is in the midst of building their home, but could use help clearing the lot, moving bricks, and working on the walls.   Members don’t understand how to prepare to teach a Relief Society or Primary lesson or, for that matter, why it is even important to get ready in advance.   A recent storm ripped off the roof of the family home, forcing them to move in with neighbors.    
What is important to remember is how we view our relationships with these members.   We have been in Blantyre for close to 16 months, and many of these members have truly become truly our friends.   They are not just fellow saints—though they are that as well; they are not just our spiritual brothers and sisters—though they are that as well.    They have welcomed us in their homes; they have helped us find the homes of other members; they have befriended us, when we were new and unfamiliar with the area; they have shown us how to mourn with those, who have lost loved ones or who are sick or who have other reasons to mourn.   They have shared with us their personal stories and let us into their lives.   They have responded to our many requests for help.   They have answered our questions about Malawi and how Malawians think, feel and respond.   They have been unstinting in their kindness to us—always making us feel good about our Church service; they have gone with us home teaching and visiting teaching; they have let us help them with their Church assignments.   They have been great example of virtue, kindness, patience in the face of affliction, brotherly kindness, long-suffering and faith.   So when service opportunities arise, we are more than willing to help our members—precisely in the same way we respond to the same opportunities back home in the United States.  Rarely do we have the feeling that we are “trying to teach a lesson” of discipline, or hard work, or enterprise, nor have the feeling they are pushing the envelope or abusing the relationship we have developed with them.      We gladly help, knowing they have helped us in the past and knowing they would do much the same for others.   Of course, we help each other in different ways, but the relationships are certainly reciprocal.   We don’t ask ourselves whether they could find “some other way” to manage on their own if we were not there.   In fact, we know they could usually find a “work around” if we weren’t present, but it would likely involve delay, sacrifice and inconvenience.  

5.    Is It Really As Simple As That?

Many missionaries may find the preceding discussion to be naïve and overly simplistic.   They would likely argue that the principle—you don’t help those who can help themselves—grows out of the sad experience many missionaries have had in working with members.   They didn’t start with that principle, but were ultimately forced there.   Given what they see as the pervasiveness of dependence, it doesn’t take much to tip Africans down the wrong path.   If members feel missionaries will help, pretty soon bad habits form or are reinforced.   They will ask over and over again for help, until finally missionaries refuse to give further assistance.   The only way to keep things from getting out of hand is to hold fast, however painful, to the principle of not helping, as long as the member can find some alternative, however imperfect, to the problem.   Members should be expected to care for themselves and anything that weakens that expectation is ultimately counter-productive.   And it is silly or naïve to think the problem is avoided simply because a relationship of friendship forms between missionary and member.    Those who otherwise help find themselves on the proverbial slippery slope—sliding downward—until they reach the point of regretting they ever helped in the first place. 

6.    The Purposes of Christian Service

As one considers both sides of the conundrum, it is worthwhile to step back to consider the reasons for providing services to our neighbors, including members.   Occasionally, it is tempting to oversimplify—those who have needs are looking for some way to see them satisfied; and those who help have resources that can, one way or the other, be used to satisfy the need.     And while no one would argue this isn’t part of the equation, it is certainly not the whole story—and when so simplified, it fails to capture, or give expression, to a number of the other motivations that animate the missionary’s desire to help others.      
Surely missionaries wish to help to solve problems.   But missionaries are likewise motivated by other deeper, powerful sentiments that go far beyond wanting to be a “problem solver.”    Missionaries want to teach others about the importance of being charitable—charity being at the core of Christianity.   And, as I have mentioned to Carole often, it is, in my opinion, impossible to teach others charity, without showing charity to them in the first instance.     When the missionary is “charitable,” members see charity in action and know, first hand, how another’s charity can touch the heart.   It is hard to see how this principle could be taught if all members see are repeated refusals to be charitable, justified on the “grounds” that members could take care of themselves, if only they extended themselves and were not so dependent upon others.[4]
But as importantly, missionaries want to help others develop and strength their faith in God and to see, through them, a manifestation of God’s love for them.   Indeed, this may be the primary motivation of most missionaries—surely those who have gone out for the purpose of testifying of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.   And the primary way in which this is done is through acts of charity.   One hopes those (the objects of charity) will see the hand of God in the charitable acts of missionaries, and thereby be drawn to the gospel.[5]  This is certainly part of what the Apostle James has in mind when he says:   “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works? Can faith save him?   If a brother is sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what do it profit?   Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.   Yea, a man may say, Thou has faith, and I have works; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” [6] 
Missionaries are also “charitable” because they have “charitable” impulses, growing out of their faith in Jesus Christ, understanding of the gospel plan, and love for others, to which they naturally wish to give expression.     The scriptures speak of faith, hope and charity.[7]   The three concepts are spoken of together because they are causally linked one to the other.   Faith in Christ gives rise to Godly hope,[8] both in a better life in here and a better life in the world to come, and faith and hope in turn cause men to have “charity,” the pure love of Christ,[9] enduring forever, and of each who possesses it the scriptures say “it shall be well with him.”[10]  “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”[11]   Missionaries blessed with such charity have an overwhelming desire to bless the lives of those who are less fortunate.   It is not something they do simply to fulfill the needs of the less fortunate; it is something they do because of the love they have for their fellow men, and the gratitude they feel for the blessings received from their Heavenly Father.   For them, the mantra of only helping those who cannot do it for themselves is hollow and largely misplaced.   Instead they wish to help everyone they can (recognizing of course the limitations to their ability and reach).[12]  

7.    Saying “No”

More than anything else, missionaries need to enjoy a portion of the spirit of discernment—knowing when to help and when to say “no” to requests for help or to hold back when service opportunities seem to present themselves, whether or not a request for help has been made.     Certainly, here in Malawi, where members and others struggle with the curse of debilitating dependence, occasions arise when helping inadvertently fosters more dependence, and does more harm than good, despite whatever good intentions missionaries may have.   Just as with children, sometimes hard lessons must be taught; but also just as with children, one must be careful not to cross the line, leaving them alone when they should be supported or protected, vulnerable to serious harm or potentially causing an irreparable breach in the relationship between parent and child.    At least in my experience, members are far more prone to listen to or accept the advice of missionaries if they believe the missionaries genuinely care about them.   
Think of the well-known stories of “shepherding” we read in the scriptures, or hear recounted in general conference—almost without exception they are stories of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep, going the extra mile, sharing of their own lack, showing extraordinary compassion and forgiveness.   Rarely are the stories of “tough” love—withholding charity to teach a lesson or to keep a relationship from spiraling out of control.   Christianity is rooted in the belief in the transformative power of affirmative, proactive, forgiving, tolerant, and compassionate “love”—forgiving those who do not forgive us; loving one’s enemy; doing good to those who hate you; turning one’s cheek.   The world would have one believe that all such compassion is nothing more than indulgence that, left unchecked, encourages, invites and stimulates further abusive behavior on the part of those who would or might take advantage.   But that is not the message of the gospel conveyed to us in the beatitudes:  “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.   Yet have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.   But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”[13]  The gospel speaks in a different language, and trusts in the great power and example of “charity,” sufficient to change the hearts of even the most hardened.[14]         
Still I recognize there are occasions when saying “no,” or staying on the sidelines” or “being tough” is appropriate.   But even in those situations, the key is for the missionary to convey, while saying “no” or withholding “assistance,” true compassion for the one suffering or struggling.   Consider the following advice in the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants:  “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;   By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, less he esteem thee to be his enemy;  That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”[15]  Several points in this passage are worth noting.  First, there are occasions, even if they seem at odds with what is normally called for by Christian behavior, when “sharpness” is appropriate.     But one needs to be careful—being sharp is appropriate only “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”—it requires a prompting by the Spirit.   One must guard against the impulse of being tough or “reproving” because one is annoyed, or feels put upon, or irritated by another’s weaknesses.    But the one who reproves is admonished not only to love the one chastened, but to show forth “afterwards an increase of love”— this that the one reproved might not consider him to be an enemy.     What is perhaps surprising is the reason given for this “increase of love.”   It is not so that the one reproved might like or be reconciled with the one reproving.   Indeed, it is not about that relationship at all.   Instead, it is about “faith”—that the one reproved might know and recognize the abiding faith of the one who reproves, and thus not have his faith shaken.
Yet when I withhold service for the purpose of “reproving” or “instructing” another, I usually feel quite “torn”—on the one hand, feeling justified in withholding service, owing to the other’s failure to prepare, laziness, dependence upon others—and on the other hand, feeling my conscience pricked by not being more generous and kind.   These feelings easily give way to a defensiveness, often leading to abrupt, dismissive, and sometimes cool behavior.      It is much easier just to dismiss the matter out of hand, than to think through what exactly the other is feeling or how he or she can find some solution to the problem.  It is as though it takes too much effort to do so.   Moreover, I fear if I allow myself to get involved, sooner or later I will be swept up in the problem, finding myself giving the very help I decided not to give in the first place.  But this is surely the wrong approach—even if one decides it is best to force a member to go alone, this does not justify or call for withdrawal.  Instead, we should stay involved—helping the afflicted to find a solution on their own, in some alternate way, rather than taking the easy way out—turning a blind eye, and hoping for the best.

[1] Elsewhere I have shared thoughts about the “money” side of the equation—whether we should give money and if so under what circumstances.   But now I am talking about the proposition in turns of “service”—not requests for money per se—though even though the service itself entails the incidental expenditure of money or resources. 
[2] When members need regular assistance, because they cannot survive financially given present income and resource levels, they should work through the Church’s welfare system.   Missionaries should not interfere with the operation of the welfare system.   See “_____________________.”
[3] To some extent, this is also the process followed when teaching through “shadow” leadership.
[4] Of course what further complicates how members respond is they believe most missionaries are in a position to help without too much difficulty.   So it is not just they don’t help, but it is they don’t help when helping wouldn’t be a burden to them.
[5] We have certainly seen this principle in action when working with members in the Zingwangwa Branch.   On a rainy, blustery day in January 2015, the Zone Leaders, Brother Banda and we worked tirelessly for over 8 hours, under terrible and dangerous conditions, moving the Nthenda’s household belongings from their home in Manja, totally destroyed in the middle of the night, into an unfinished home on property occupied by Sister Nthenda’s mother, in the village of Chiwembe, a distance of less than four miles.   However that wintery day the road conditions were so poor, with washed out roads and gullies, and fallen trees across the roads, it took over an hour to make the drive each way, and the move involved a number of return trips.   Within two weeks, six women started attending the Zingwangwa Branch, travelling on foot the 2 hours from Chiwembe Village to the chapel, simply because they were impressed by the charity the Nthendas received.    Enita Tsoka’s mother-in-law was also drawn to the Church because of the charity and support Enita received from missionaries and members, as Enita went through the painful ordeal of losing her 12-year old daughter Angullah.    She joined the Church roughly three months after Angullah’s death.
[6] James 2: 14-18.
[7] See 1 Cor. 13 and Moroni 7.
[8] See Moroni 7: 42: “Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope, for without faith there cannot be any hope.”
[9] See 1 Tim. 1: 5: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”   See also Moroni 7: 47.
[10] Moroni 7: 47.
[11] Moroni 7: 48.
[12] See “You Can’t Help Everyone” supra.
[13] Matt. 5: 38-44.
[14] Even the monumental French novel by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables,” is predicated upon this theme—where an unexpected act of great charity—where none is required—transforms the life of Jean Valjean.
[15] D&C 121: 41-44.