“Rich,” “Poor,” and Guilt Trips

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Surrounded in the market.

“You’re rich, you can afford it,” said one of the women trying to sell hand-woven goods to a group of North Americans in the market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

Another, looking at our missionary nametags, said, “Your church believes in helping people,” implying that as its representatives, we were obligated to help them.

For the past three days, I’ve been trying to figure out why those comments bothered me.

Our Church does indeed believe in helping people. The help it gives through spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ is much more of a spiritual than a temporal nature. But the Church has donated untold millions to disaster relief and charitable causes without seeking or generating publicity for its efforts. Church leaders encourage members not only to tithe, but to be generous with their means in voluntarily helping others. Many of us do so, following our own consciences and what we feel are promptings from the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit.

But the suggestion that we should help at the individual’s demand strikes me as greedy and self-serving.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught, as have all of His prophets, that we who have should help those who have not. For example: “I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath” (Mosiah 4:26, Book of Mormon). He also warned the poor not to “covet that which ye have not received” (Mosiah 4:25). To me, the suggestion that I should give at the individual’s demand is manipulative and covetous.

Are my wife and I rich? Certainly not by North American standards, and not even by Central American standards. We could never afford to shop in the exclusive clothing, fine jewelry, and home furnishing stores in the Oakland Mall or Paseo Cayalá in Guatemala City. We could not buy one of the Mercedes, Volvo, or Land Rover vehicles we see in the Paiz supermarket parking lot.

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With the entourage that followed our group back to the parking lot.

But to be honest, we are undoubtedly better off than a fair percentage of the people in this world, and certainly better off than those women who surrounded us in the market in Chichicastenango and followed us like an entourage back to the place where our vehicle was parked.

I had ample opportunity to watch the woman who made the comment about our being rich. She consistently elbowed others out of the way and pushed her way to the front of the pack. She would not stay out of my wife’s face. Her Mayan typical clothing looked newer and finer than that of the women around her, and she was quite obviously well-fed. If I had to choose who among that group most needed our money, it would not have been her.

Sister S. says it sounds like I may be a bit judgmental here in deciding with whom I will share. Maybe she’s right; the Master didn’t qualify the commandment to give. But when you can’t give to everyone, it’s hard to feel motivated to give to those who almost demand it. Am I alone in feeling this way?

In fact, my wife and I do contribute money, as much as we feel able, to both charitable organizations and individuals, but we do not care to share the details. We prefer to do this quietly. My wife finds delight in making and contributing items for women and children she will never meet. There is great joy to be had in serving and giving—but not usually when it is in response to a guilt trip from someone with his or her own interests at heart.

Later that same day, a couple of us in our party spent $7 each for an album of guitar music that we don’t need in order to help a man we met at a popular tourist stop. He was 72, he said, and still needing to support his wife and some of his children because in Central America there aren’t social security systems that allow older people to retire so easily as in the U.S. The dress suit he wore had seen better days. But he seemed to be offering the best he had to offer, and he praised God for blessings he receives each day.

Was he more honest than the women in the marketplace, or more deserving?  I have no way to testify to that.

I only know that the Holy Spirit told us here was someone we could help.

One thought on ““Rich,” “Poor,” and Guilt Trips

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