Why do we give?

Natasha Murray-Norman

Natasha Murray-Norman

By Natasha Murray-Norman
Special Contributor

In recent weeks I have been fascinated with a particular story that went viral. James Robertson is the Detroit resident who walked 21 miles to and from work each day for 10 years. After Wayne State University student Evan Leedy heard Robertson’s story, he established a GoFundMe account to accept online contributions. Robertson received a new car and much more as a result of Leedy’s action.

The story of the philanthropy of many focused to help one person has made me ask a question: Why? Why were the hearts of thousands moved with compassion for this one man and his plight? Could it be that in the midst of all the bad things that have inundated their timelines and newsfeeds, they simply needed to be part of something good?

Upon hearing about the contributions to help with Robertson’s transportation, many began to wonder about the condition of the public transit system. That someone would have to walk 21 miles each day because of the gaps in public transportation becomes a community-wide concern. Others voiced concern over the wages that Robertson was earning. In 10 years of earning $10.55 an hour and having a car that did not work, he could not afford to repair it. Robertson now has a solution to his problem, but what about others with similar challenges?

The reality is that there are many like Robertson in our mission fields here in Arkansas. Whether we are in urban or rural areas, we know of those who lack adequate transportation, housing and healthcare. There are those in our community who struggle to live on the wages they earn. Robertson’s story helps illustrate the realities of the working poor. What can our response be to these neighbors of ours? Through the telling and retelling of this story, there are lessons that we in our local churches can learn.

The first lesson we can learn is that we need to know the specific stories of the mission field. When telling the narrative of our mission field, we tend to speak in generalities. Very seldom are we specific. We know about problems, but we lack a connection to them.

Robertson’s story provided a point of connection for the online community. His experience helped people understand some of the problems that the working poor face: long commutes, low wages, inadequate transportation. And they moved to respond.

The second lesson we can learn is that we need to listen and connect. Wayne State University student Evan Leedy read about Robertson. His heart was moved with compassion, and he decided to do something about it. Not only did he listen, but he also felt empathy—what if he were the one making that commute? Leedy placed himself in the story.

What would happen if we placed ourselves in the story of our neighbors in the mission field? Not as the hero who comes in to save the day, but as someone living those experiences?

Lastly, we can learn that whenever we witness the story we must act. Our response may not always to create a GoFundMe account—in fact, most of the time it won’t be—but we can choose to respond. We can use our own networking abilities. Monetary contributions were helpful for Robertson, but it was the networking that told the story, that brought the financial help and made the difference.

During this Lenten journey, we are encouraged to take on a new spiritual practice. I encourage you to take on the task of getting to know a new part of your community. Learn the stories. Place yourself in the story. Respond and connect in new ways. The good that comes from giving can be good news for all of us.

The Rev. Murray-Norman serves as associate pastor of First UMC Pine Bluff.