Samoa can teach the Palagi a lot about giving. The process of giving in the Samoan culture is well entrenched and deserving of credit. Like many traditional societies Samoa has operated in some degree along the lines of a gift economy, a biblical economic system if ever there was.
In economic terms, a gift economy is one in which goods or services are simply donated to others around us. In this form of society, family, friends, neighbours are recipients of our capacity to produce (our wealth) with little measurement of financial reward. One family may give another Lau leaves simply because they have them and another needs them.
This is a biblical model, and one in which Christ lived to perfection, following the heart of the Father. He simply gave of what He had – wisdom, vision, healing, love and of course ultimately His life. After the gift of the Holy Spirit, His disciples too gave freely of what they had. Who can forget the words of the early disciples, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk”?
In practice, the giving process can easily move to an exchange of equally valuable goods or services (i.e. “I’ll give you one pig in exchange for those Lau leaves”). This in turn moves towards a barter market, in economic terms, so that values of goods or services are measured and traded.
Moving further away from the gift economy is legislated giving. Governments do this and call it taxation. Many churches do it also and call it a tithe. Pre-determined “donations” fall into the same category but this is not giving. In economic terms it is simply a tax, a temple-tax if you will.
Giving following a disaster such as the recent cyclone in Samoa falls into several categories. “First phase” giving is vital in order to rebuild housing and re-establish a country. Grants from other countries, international agencies, NGOs, family and friends overseas will help, but a healthy economy should move from this phase to independence as soon as possible, thus avoiding the crippling hand out mentality that is so prevalent in some circles in Samoa.
The SWAP Foundation enables “second-phase giving”, where we help people with goodwill towards Samoa come and give what they have or want to give. We have created the infrastructure by way of an organisation, physical and practical support systems, to enable their giving. We too practice the gift economy as all produce from our plantation is given away, not sold. Our volunteers pay nothing more than the actual costs of their food yet join the vision to give of their time and talent too.
The difference between the Samoan practice of giving for show or reward and the biblical gift economy is that of motivation. When we give because Christ first gave to us, we practice biblical giving. Giving then becomes an exercise of faith. Neither giving to get (be it glory or reward), nor giving from obligation is biblical giving.
The biggest challenge to operating in a gift economy is greed, the love of money. Biblical giving however breaks the power of mammon. William Barclay could be easily right about the miracle of the feeding five thousand, that it was a far greater miracle for thousands of Israelites open up their coats and share their own unleavened bread and salted fish (which they always carried with them), than to create food out of thin air in a “flash of glory”!
How about we give what we have this Christmas in faith, because the Lord has first given to us?