The Umbrella Principle
How to have a realistic impact when you are surrounded by needs
Ngole’s eyes rolled back, and his body slapped the ground as he fell from the wooden stool and onto the cold concrete. We rushed to care for him thinking he had some medical issue. When he regained consciousness, we began asking him questions to determine the cause of his fainting spell. Upon further investigation, we learned that Ngole, our language teacher, had not eaten in 3 days. He had passed out due to hunger.
We had never experienced suffering on this level in our previous assignment. In the amazon, food literally falls off of trees. But in Karamoja, food insecurity is a constant concern, especially during the dry season. In most cases (like Ngole), the uninitiated would never recognize the need. They do not look like the starving children you see on TV. But once we identified the signs, we were overwhelmed by the fact that the majority of the 330,000 people living around us slept hungry.
These were real problems. They were real people — my friends.
Every year people died of malnutrition and starvation, but our resources could not match the need around us. That reality filled us with frustration and guilt. We had seen missionaries leave the field because they could not come to terms with the massive needs outside their door. We did not want to become the next ones to pack our bags.
In the midst of these looming questions, I saw a pattern in the life of Christ that gave me hope. I am optimistic that this breakthrough can help you too.
Even though Jesus was able physically to meet all of the needs around him, he did not. He prioritized.
Jesus discerned a difference between his disciples and the masses. They were not the same, and Jesus’ investment in each group was noticeably different.
During his prayer in John 17, Jesus refers to his disciples numerous times as the ones God “gave to him.” He recognized that his responsibilities with the 12 were different than his obligation to the masses.
For example, Jesus taught the masses with parables; but He explained the deeper meaning of the parables to His disciples. He invested in them and gave them the words of life.
This was liberating for me. Once I recognize that the Son of God made boundaries, I felt free to establish margins of my own.
I call it the Umbrella Principle.
An umbrella’s function is to provide a level of protection from the harshness of the world around us, whether it is the hot sun, pouring rain, or pounding hail. But an umbrella is limited in its capacity to provide protection, just like we are. One umbrella can not protect 1,000 people from the rain.
Likewise, missionaries and humanitarian aid workers do not have the resources to personally meet the needs of all of the people they come into contact with. But they often have the capacity to support a select few. My commitment is to help those who God guides under the protection of my umbrella.
Widows, Orphans, Strangers, the Elderly, the Disabled, and the oppressed tend to hold the highest priority in God’s heart, so they have the same place in mine. Once I sense the Lord giving me the responsibility to care for a person or group of people, I make an effort to show Christian charity. This is an opportunity for me to share the mercy and provisions that God lavished upon me in my time of need. When I was desperate, he met me where I was, and now when I meet someone consumed by fear and doubt, I can
I am NOT responsible for the whole population, but God has entrusted me with a chosen few, and I do my best to help. This mindset is more manageable in the long run and allows you to have reasonable expectations for yourself.
Why did Jesus, who had infinite power, focus his most profound efforts and care upon such a small grouping of disciples? Because God wants to pass on His character to us and allow us to collaborate with him. He doesn’t want us to bring him those who are in need. He wants us to minister to those in need so that we can properly introduce them to the messiah.
Jesus could have done his redemptive work without the disciples, but who would have continued his work after he returned to heaven?
Jesus could have told his followers about compassion and generosity; He could have modeled it for them and left it at that. But he didn’t; he commanded them to DO what they observed him doing.
This is how the Gospel spreads:
- Those who have received grace and mercy have gathered under Jesus’ umbrella;
- and those who are gathered there gather others under their umbrellas to share the compassion of Christ;
- As the gathered ones experience His love, they too open their umbrellas, and the Good News of Jesus Christ passes from generation to generation through Christian Charity.
Don’t try to save the world; you are not able or worthy. Just open your umbrella and care for those who God has given to you.
Upgrading your umbrella
Organizations like Send Relief can help us to expand the reach of our umbrella for a short time. They are allowing us to save lives and have a positive impact on the community. They have a holistic strategy, and they focus on sustainability and long-term answers. But their funds and strategies are not capable of answering all of the world’s problems. That is why Jesus created his church.
The long-term solution to the humanitarian aid crisis is the church. When the church is functioning as it should, it is a congregation filled with umbrellas — each gathering the needy to the protection and generosity of Jesus Christ and his people.
We must instill sacrificial generosity into the churches we plant and gather with. If a need comes to your attention and you do not have the resources to meet that need, take it to God’s people and allow others to be blessed by giving.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.Acts 20:35
What happened with Ngole? The rest of the story.
Because of what happened with Ngole that day, we made some sweeping changes in how we operated. We increased the benefits of working on our compound. We provided lunch and tea time daily for every worker. This minor change also gave us time to eat lunch, take tea with our workers, and get to know them and their life situations better. In this way, we ensured that no matter what was happening at home, we knew that our workers got at least one substantial meal that day.
Secondly, during the dry season, hunger was a pressing issue, not just for our workers but also for their families. So we provided supplemental dry foods (beans & maize flour) during each month of the dry season. We were ensuring that the families did not go hungry during the most challenging season of the year.
It is important to note that the assistance provided was not a handout but well thought out and practical job benefits. How you help is just as important as what you give. If your generosity makes you feel good but steals the dignity of the people you are trying to elevate, you have made the situation worse than it was before.
So, take time to think through your plan, discuss options with the people you are serving, look for a solution that provides for their felt needs but also empowers them and makes them proud of what they have done to provide for themselves.