Saturday, March 26, 2011

Map Quest

As a history nerd, I love maps. I love to see the change in national boundaries or how our understanding of surveying and cartography has improved. So imagine my disappointment when the pull-down maps in my classroom broke last spring. I was even more disappointed when I saw how expensive a new set of maps would be.

A very exciting thing happened when I got back from Christmas. Two sets of maps had been donated to QCS from some very kind person in the States. After a long delay for hardware and labor, they were finally hung last week. I. was. giddy. MAPS!

I am teaching my Comparative Government class about Modern China, so I pulled down the map of Asia and we looked a the country, talked about our favorite Chinese food dishes and why Yao Ming was a certifiable NBA bust. I was putting the map up and suddenly I froze in Post-Cold War horror. In the space north of China where I saw it: the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics!? How could this be?

I quickly pulled down the map for Europe. Next to the USSR was Czechoslovakia, further south was Yugoslavia. I checked Africa- Zaire was prominently displayed. These "new" maps that had been "donated" were over 20 years old.

I talked to my director and told him. He looked dog-faced. He had no idea.

These were not so much "donated" to us as "thrown away" to us, and the thrower got to feel good about their "help". What an absolute pile of manure. Do you remember why God favored Abel's sacrifice over Cain's? Because it was the fat portion, the choicest cut of meat. Not the outdated-not-good-enough-for-my-kids-but-good-enough-for-those-Haitians-they-will-take-anything portion.

This is one of those things missionaries learn deal with. My principal's grandparents, who were missionaries to Asia, were often mailed used tea bags. Recently my school received 2 boxes of men's size 12 football cleats and XS bike shorts. How many 9-year-olds in Haiti have ginormous feet and are playing nose tackle? My friend Sean told me that his first year here someone shipped him a box of used undergarments. I read after the Asian tsunami a few years back, I heard of a donation of Santa costumes. After the earthquake last year, the relief camp here at Quisqueya received at least one large shipment of frostbite treatment kids and tents without poles.

Some people think beggars cannot be choosers. If you are less fortunate you should graciously accept anything given to you, and it is being ungrateful to question gifts. However, I would charge that this is a defense mechanism to keep the speaker from confronting the fact that they are not living up to a Christlike example of charity. Christ encourages us to give so graciously we would offer the very shirt off our backs and to go the extra mile, not to spend at little as possible or to give trash. The Good Samaritan surely is the most famous Biblical example of helping a stranger, and he surely spent a good amount of silver tenderly caring for the mugging victim he encountered- no secondhand toss-offs there.

Wouldn't it be great if the American church started giving out of its fat portion (and it does have a lot of fat to give from)? Giving new and needed items and never stained, expired, dated, useless material?



  1. I teach in Africa with Mercy Ships...we just got a container stuffed with "thoughtful donations". My principal calls it the Junk for Jesus new favorite phrase. My kids were also supposed to be learning about Central Asia via vaguely drawn lines in the USSR. And I'm supposed to write a thank-you note?

  2. So many biblical references to what your entry speaks about. Giving our first fruits, Jesus singling out the widow who gave her 2 cents. I'm glad you were bold enough to post this. Unloading your junk on folks who have put their lives on hold to serve others is unspeakable.

  3. Thank you for this post Ben. When we give to others it should be to help them with their burden not to add to it. I have seen "donations" at the clothes closet where I work of single gloves, detachable hoods without the winter coat, and bags of clothes so stinky I had to hold my breath while carrying them to the dumpster. All of this falls under the category that shares the title of an excellent book on the subject - "When Helping Hurts - How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself" by Steve Corbett & Brian Fiikkert.

  4. Hi, Ben,
    I eagerly read you and Katie's posts on my email regularly and have learned so much from you two. I work at a school myself here in the States and am aware of many donations brought to our school. Often those donating are elderly folks who think their wares might be appreciated by the youngsters in our school. It is not surprising to see an elderly man, bent over, lugging an old brown box of outdated encyclopedias through our front doors. Or perhaps an older woman, retired long ago from teaching, bringing her now-outdated teaching supplies to us. Their hearts are in the right place and their "never throw anything away" mentality comes to them honestly, given their era... I guess, naively perhaps, I want to caution you against referring to someone's donations as "manure." It is quite possible that an older person who'd had these maps in their possession for 50 years thought a missions school could use it, and cheerfully donated them. They would be crushed by your references to their gifts... Be on guard against arrogance in the midst of fighting for your students... Anne Buzzy

  5. I suppose you could use those maps to teach historical geography instead of modern geography... :^o Sorry you have to put up with that!

    I've heard food pantry workers refer to some food drives as "clean out the pantry" - where people donate the old or yucky things they no longer want. They also hold an annual food drive just outside a grocery store, where the store is offering bags of good quality food at not much more than their cost - those food drives bring in much more usable stuff.

  6. So many great comments, Thank You all.
    To the person who teaches on a Mercy Ship. I would love to know your name, email address and blog if you have one. My wife and I think your life is probably very close to ours.

    It is interesting to see people in many different areas of service, food pantries, clothes closets experience the same thing.

    I am familiar with When Helping Hurts, I plan on reading it this summer when school is out and I am sure it will spawn many blog entries. I have only heard good things about it.

    Anne, thank you for cautioning me against arrogance. That was not my intention at all. Rather to point out how thoughtless in our giving we can be sometimes me. I cringe when Tricia wrote about canned food drives because I did that when I was a teenager... It was the only way to get rid of lima beans and black eyed peas! You are right, those effected by the Great Depression rarely throw anything away. But there has to be a shift in thinking that some of those donations mentioned by others and I are okay. Thanks again for reading and writing back.


  7. Hey, wait, I BUY used clothing for myself! hahaha
    (But, no, not underwear!)

    As unusable as they are, I'd like to think someone's heart was in the right place when they gave those maps.

    On a personal note, I've never known kindness & 'giving from the heart' like I experienced in Japan. Time and time again too. I had more culture shock when I came BACK to the States. Please pray for Japan.

  8. Hey - those maps were good enough for us when I was growing up!


  9. Amen and amen! I would love to see the Church give generously and sacrificially and not just the leftovers! The football random. I wonder if it was even worth the cost to ship it over to you guys? Strange indeed! Hopefully someone can use them!

  10. Actually, I eat lima beans and black-eyed peas!

    Point well taken, though.

    If you have junk, sell it on eBay to people who actually want that stuff, and then send the proceeds to the charity of your choice!

    Used undergarments (AFTER being washed) are useful only as shop rags or as paper pulp!



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