January 14, 2018

Remittances and the Gospel of Compassion

Joy Kauffman is founder and president of Farm Stew, a church-supporting ministry whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of rural, small farm families throughout the world. As such, it strives to battle childhood stunting, establish home gardens, increase food availability, develop small businesses, and improve sanitation, especially in developing countries.—Editors

Families naturally sacrifice for one another. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in migrant communities around the world. According to Pew Research, in 2015, migrants worldwide sent more than US$582 billion to their families back home in the form of remittances.[1]From the United States alone, US$133 billion was sent home by immigrants.

By definition, a remittance is a transfer of money by a foreign worker to an individual in his or her home country. According to the Guardian, “For decades it was a largely unnoticed feature of the global economy, a blip of a statistic that hinted at the tendency of expatriates to send a little pocket money back to families in their home countries. But now, the flow of migrant money around the world has shot up to record levels as more people than ever cross borders to live and work abroad.”[2]

"That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters”

The sacrificial giving of immigrants to their families has grown so much in the past two decades that “the worldwide total of remittances was more than 2.5 times the sum that was spent on” development aid.[3] While charities and governments seek to impact the lives of the global poor, families are the primary investors in their future. Sadly, to earn these funds families are separated by oceans, as parents opt for foreign wages over the tragic option of raising their children in dire poverty.

The US Census Bureau indicates that there were more than 41 million foreign-born immigrants in the United States in 2013. A crude mathematical calculation indicates each immigrant sent an average of more than US$3,000 per year to their family abroad. In contrast, American households gave on average less than US$1,000 to religious and secular non-profits, including their churches, the majority of which stays within US borders.[4]

Our generosity pales in comparison. But does our money need to leave our borders to reach the poor? Data speaks loudly. The World Food Program estimates that of the world’s 795 million hungry people, 98 percent live in the developing world, and 70 percent relies on farming as their occupation.

A Global Family

As Christians, we are part of a global family of faith, right? Paul puts it this way, “So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters” (Heb. 2:11)

Inspired by Christ, whose sacrificial death made it possible for all of us to be adopted as children of God, we too are called to generosity. Can we, who are not biological family to the poor, function truly as spiritual family? Do we give till it hurts like the widow with her mite? Can we focus on the family in such a way that their marriages could stay intact, thus preventing despair and disease? Could our brothers and sisters tuck their children in their beds at night and read them an evening devotion?

Do these families matter to us? They should. Paul writes, “Whoever does not care for his own relatives, especially his own family members, has turned against the faith and is worse than someone who does not believe in God” (1 Tim. 5:8)

Does this apply to spiritual family too?

Story of a “Mission” Trip

I can remember like it was yesterday when my youth group, like hundreds of busloads of American teenagers before and after us, went to Mexico to paint a church and offer a Vacation Bible School for children. We had planned to “suffer for Jesus.”

Only a few days into the trip, however, I realized it was a pleasure. Never before had I eaten such fantastic guacamole in such vast quantities and never before had I felt so appreciated. But then I began to notice the little things, like the swollen bellies and skinny arms. I saw young girls carrying their younger siblings on their backs for long distances just to be able to sing songs about Jesus.

I realized that many of their parents were gone, many to los Estados Unidos. I learned that they were inspired by the hope of a better life for their children. That’s the reason for most voluntary migration in the world. For the next decade, I asked myself, “Would I let my family suffer if I had the means to alleviate it?” I sure hope not.

After being exposed to those kids, I thought differently about family and the sacrifices siblings would make for one another. They inspired me. What I saw as a teen in Mexico impacted my desire to give sacrificially.

Perhaps the time is ripe for Christians to reach out to our family members in creative ways as well. Perhaps allowing ourselves to be convicted by the Holy Spirit to support specific spiritual family members with a specific goal in mind. I ask, shouldn’t we focus on those left out by traditional remittances because they have no biological family in the first-world countries?

Do we, as Christians globally connected in the family of faith, have the means to alleviate this suffering? Absolutely!

Why don’t we start today?

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/jan/30/migrants-billions-overshadow-aid

[3] http://www.tageswoche.ch/de/2013_19/international/540047/

[4] https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Religious-Americans-Give-More/153973