‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.
Many of us will have heard this saying and perhaps some of the humerus variants too.
‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give a man a fish supper and you’ll discover whether he’s from the east or west side of Scotland’, depending whether he prefers ‘salt and vinegar’ or ‘salt and sauce’!
Maybe you need to be from Scotland to appreciate that one.
Or maybe, ‘Teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime… unless, of course, he doesn’t like sushi, then you also need to teach him how to cook’.
It does make a relevant point though.
With the words of the charity song, ‘Feed the world, do they know it’s Christmas?’ ringing in our ears once again, after 30 years it could be easy to be cynical and wonder why the many millions that were so generously given the first time, and the second time, and the rest, haven’t changed the world yet.
Of course the funds that were raised probably did do enormous good and there are no easy answers.
Perhaps there are too many man-made conflicts and too many corrupt, greedy power barons with their own agendas. There is enough food, there are sufficient resources in the world for everyone. But somehow there are places in the world that never seem to thrive and then are so vulnerable when catastrophes and natural disasters do happen.
Organisations like the Disasters Emergency Committee and the various charities they operate with, do provide immediate help where it is needed. When people are given the opportunity to change their own lives, through the generosity of millions of individuals who give what they can, it does make a difference. Many of the international aid agencies do also try to help people to get back onto their own feet and not simply be dependent on a cycle of hand-outs.
Here in the UK, we have our own array of charity needs.
Annual appeals like ‘Children in Need’ at Christmas, and in November the annual ‘Poppy Appeal’ among many others, raise enormous amounts to support good causes.
However while it is good to support the ‘headline’ charities, we shouldn’t forget the needy in our own communities.
In Central Scotland, Glasgow City Mission in the west and here at Edinburgh City Mission in the east, we are working practically every day of the year with those who have become marginalised from mainstream society – those who are homeless, in poverty or have got into difficulty in other ways.
It’s not just about hand-outs. Sometimes these are appropriate. But there is a real risk that charitable giving and the charitable work it supports, simply become enablers that sustain an impoverished, opt-out, lifestyle.
So it’s not simply about food hand-outs (giving a man a fish).
ECM’s mission is to get beside people, to help or enable them to break free from the cycles of dependency they may have found themselves in.
ECM does provide people with food and other things to help meet their physical needs. We are enormously grateful for all who donate food, other provisions, financial support and for all who volunteer to staff this operation.
ECM also seeks to present people with the opportunity to partake of the ‘Bread of Life’.
In a world that seems to have forgotten the Christ of Christmas, let us remember that there are no holidays for the homeless. As we contemplate what gifts we may give or what we may wish to receive this Christmas, can we find some extra goodwill to share with those in need?
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you may feed him for many years. But everyone who receives the ‘Bread of Life’ will be satisfied in their soul, for eternity.
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