Charity begins at home. No argument with that but where is home? Is it only our immediate family or does it include our extended family as well? Is it the 4 walls within which we live? Is it our neighbourhood, school or workplace as well? Could it even include everyone in our country before we rush off to aid others around the world? According to the Cambridge dictionary, this phrase means ’ You should take care of your family and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country.
My problem with this Cambridge definition is how narrow it is. ‘Home’ is family and ‘away’ is out of the country. What about the people and places in between? So often we read of disasters happening in remote parts of the world and we are asked to give as much help as possible in cash and/or in kind. This is always met with an outcry as to why so much is being spent on those who do not live in our country when there are so many in need here. So that brings us back to the question, “where is ‘here’ and how far is it from each of our own personal circumstances?” and the other question, “if there is so much need here, are we extending the charity? Do we really practise Charity Begins at Home?”
Last week a group of us was discussing doing outreach activities and how to make our actions reflect our words. Suggestions raised included assisting with women who have been violated, helping children and families in poor areas and supplying warm clothes and blankets to people living in a mountain village 250kms away. All of these are excellent forms of charity and love, no doubt. The next morning some of us were together again and talking on the topic but slightly differently.
A young person challenged us on why we tend to help our immediate families first and then seem keen to move to help others much further away; outside of the local community. Is this because we get greater recognition if we are seen to be helping those who do not know us and whom we ourselves do not know? Another reason may be that we assume that all within our circle or neighbourhood have as much as or more than we ourselves do and so do not need our charity? We tend to forget that people we know or to whom we live near are being retrenched, have experienced bank foreclosure on their home and car, have had accidents and can no longer work or lost a bread winner through death or divorce. They do not only need us at the moment of their loss, whichever it might be, but probably need love and support for months or even, years ahead.
Quite frequently, after I have been to an evening meeting and am driving home, I come across some young women who have to walk about 3kms from their place of work to the bus stop. The last 1km is a downhill stretch which is extremely poorly lit at night and has been the site of a number of attacks on women who have no option but to walk that route to catch the bus. I have given these young ladies a lift whenever I have seen them and the gratitude that they show is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Their wage is the minimum required as they work at a take-away and so paying to use the bus or taxi to the main bus stop is not an option. From this bus stop it is about a half-hour ride and then another 10min walk to home, so how much do I really assist them when they still have so many other issues to face. As I have said they are really very truly grateful for 2 reasons – a) they have been protected along a very dangerous part of their journey and b) they will get a bus at least 20mins earlier than usual. For me, this is charity at home.
Let’s extend our understanding of Charity Beginning at Home. Let’s extend it to anyone who crosses our path in any way – momentarily or for months at a time.