GREENFIELD — They came at Christmastime, bearing wrapped gifts.

The children were excited. The mothers, he recalls, seemed a little uncomfortable but were gracious.

Bob Lupton had been ministering in the city for years, but that year, he and his family had moved into the neighborhood. So he was there when the gift-bearers came to help the less fortunate, and he watched fathers sheepishly disappear out the backdoor when they did.

These parents, in front of their children, were being exposed, he said. The gifts, though provided by others with kind intentions, were putting on display Mom and Dad’s inability to provide. And he gained a new perspective, watching it all unfold.

Story continues below gallery

“It was very, very hurtful,” Lupton said.

Lupton urges a different approach to helping people in need, one that replaces pantries with low-cost food co-ops, one that trains young people to repair bikes with the chance to earn one — one that asks more of recipients and in so doing, he asserts, maintains their dignity by acknowledging they have something to offer.

Lupton will talk more about that approach at Love INC’s third annual Love Thy Neighbor banquet on Feb. 11 at Adaggios Banquet Hall and Conference Centre.

Jim Peters, executive director of Love INC of Greater Hancock County, thinks Lupton’s message might be a hard one for local churches and nonprofits to hear. He’s tried to warn them a little with his blog posts (loveinc-ghc.org/blog/) that it won’t necessarily be a feel-good presentation, that it will challenge the way so many have ministered in the past.

Still, he’s excited about Lupton’s appearance and said he believes the “Toxic Charity” theme of the author’s remarks will generate discussion and help local ministries more effectively address the needs of those they seek to help.

The banquet has a fundraising component. Tickets are $45 per person or $300 for an eight-seat table ($37.50 a seat), and Peters said organizers are hoping to draw 300 people.

But Peters said even more than raising money, the goal for the banquet since it began in 2015 has been to educate and build awareness. That year, the speaker was “Redemptive Compassion” author Lois Tupyi. Last year, Safe Families founder David Anderson spoke. This year, Peters thinks Lupton brings valuable insight to the event.

Lupton can tell story after story of the unintended consequences of well-meaning charity: The overseas school painted by a mission group, then repainted by another one less than a year later because it gave willing hands a way to feel good about the trip. The Tennessee overpass that’s the site of frequent meal deliveries but becomes a magnet for a crowd that pushes each other to get to the front of the line for shoes or blankets. The Nicaraguan man who says visiting teams are “turning my people into beggars” by dropping off donations instead of fostering development.

Some of his stories of the search for a better method come from his own work with Focused Community Strategies, the Atlanta-based organization he founded in 1978.

For example, after watching the Christmas gift delivery, Lupton changed how his own organization handled gifts for children. These days, donors contribute unwrapped toys that become part of a store where parents can buy them at greatly reduced prices. Operating the store creates jobs, and parents can experience real satisfaction in being able to pick out the toys they know will delight their children, he said.

That doesn’t mean everyone greeted the change with enthusiasm.

“There certainly is pushback from some, and it requires a good bit of education,” Lupton said. “When we explained really what a child needs more than a toy for Christmas is an effective parent, … for the most part, people understand and are excited to participate in a better way.”

Lupton has also urged a change in outlook about mission trips, questioning whether groups effectively meet needs (or simply repaint the building, for example) and suggesting the trips are often organized more for the benefit of those going more than those in the country visited. He would rather they be called “insight trips” that allow people to see God’s work going on in a location, rather than a results-oriented emphasis on “what we did.”

Paul Romoser, pastor of family life at Brookville Road Community Church in New Palestine, has seen dozens of young people participate in trips to Mexico, Brazil and locations in the United States. He agrees the focus must remain on those being served.

“Many times, mission trips are glamorized by what is accomplished,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “While this is a part of the experience, the focus has to be on the people being served. Out of this experience, the team members should have a changed life from giving to others.”

Lupton offers more than criticism. He followed his book “Toxic Charity” with “Charity Detox,” a sequel outlining possible solutions and holding up examples of effective programs.

He hopes to bring “an educational, somewhat provocative, presentation for church folk” when he speaks at the event in February.

Peters plans to invite other nonprofits to the event and hopes Lupton’s points will launch a continuing discussion.

“Hopefully, it will stir some conversation that we can explore some of these things moving forward.”

If you go

Love INC of Greater Hancock County’s third annual Love Thy Neighbor Banquet

Time and place: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at Adaggios Banquet Hall and Conference Centre, 5999 Memory Lane, Greenfield

Features: Remarks by author Bob Lupton, presentation of awards and a game show-style game of questions about Hancock County

Cost: $45 per person or $300 for eight-seat table

Tickets: Mail check to Love INC of Greater Hancock County, P.O. Box 192, Greenfield, IN 46140, or visit loveinc-ghc.org/love-thy-neighbor-banquet-2017/.

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com