Thoughts on Free Stuff

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As I mentioned before, I love reading missionary blogs! Did you know that you can see the latest blog posts from CRWM missionaries, church planters, CRC pastors, and World Renew staff on the CRCNA website? In case you haven't checked it out recently, I am reposting this reflection by Anthony and Sara Sytsma. I think it is especially appropriate as we think about our church's involvement in missions, short term trips, and even local outreach efforts.

Living at World Hunger Relief, we think a lot about living simply just like we did when we were in Uganda.  (For one thing, we use composting toilets so our waste doesn't leave the farm!)  Anyway, World Hunger Relief exists to help alleviate world hunger in three main ways: through training people like us, through motivating people in the US to think about the sustainability of the way they live, and through partnering with groups around the world who work to end hunger. 

So something I have been thinking about recently related to the sustainability of the way I live and simplicity is that it is hard to say no to free stuff.  

We all experience times when we are offered something for free, whether it is free samples of food at the grocery store or free notepads and hats at conferences.  Often, when we are offered such things, even if we don't need them, it's free, so we take it.  This can lead to cluttering up our house with stuff we don't need.  Or if it takes the form of free food you don't necessarily want or like, but you feel obligated to take and eat it, since it is free.  Then, you might even end up eating too much.  In college, I remember how I was never willing to turn down a free cookie or chip clip or pen because even if I wasn't hungry or if I had 20 more pens at home, maybe I would need it later!  (Okay, maybe I still might fall into that mentality...)

Anyway, all this led me to think about mistakes missionaries and short-term mission trips can make with handing out free stuff.  It isn't always bad to give to others, but we need to realize that if it is hard for us rich people to say no to free stuff when we already have more than we need, then surely it must also be hard for people who are materially poor to say no even if it is something that doesn't meet their needs at all. 

Also, it seems that we often value things we paid for more than we value items which we have been given for free.  Anthony has found some websites that offer free music and so he has ended up with more music than he could ever listen to.  Now, when he is deleting excess songs, he finds that it is easier to get rid of a free song than to delete a song he paid 99 cents for even if the one he paid for has lyrics he's not comfortable listening to.  I know we've talked about this before, but as an example, when it comes to handing out Bibles to people who don't have them, it is worth considering whether it might not be more valuable to someone if they have to work for/buy it than if the Bibles are being handed out for free all over the place.

So then, this is a difficult subject.  Material possessions are not all bad, but they can own us.  And they can be destructive in interactions with the materially poor.  Therefore, I have a challenge for all of us who already have too much stuff and still struggle with saying no to more.  Here is my roundabout way of getting to that challenge: When people travel on mission trips from the US to poorer countries, it seems that one of the biggest things that we take away is that "the people there are so joyful in their relationship with God and they hardly own anything!"  And then we go back to the US or Canada and think that the application for what we just learned is to be thankful for all the stuff we do possess.  For certain, it is good to appreciate what we have as a gift from God, but maybe a further application would be to also reduce the amount of stuff we have.   Maybe, like the materially poor, we would depend more on God and have a greater appreciation of his provision for us if we didn't have as many possessions to distract us.  Let us take a good look at what we own and consider what kind of hold it might have on us.  Are our possessions keeping us from joy in the Lord or do they make us think that we are completely self-sufficient?  What are we willing to give up in order to be closer to God?

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