Posts Tagged ‘the poor’

A Trip to the Zoo

November 25, 2012

By Dan Crain

The evangelical church is waking up to the needs of the poor, and this is a very promising change. Since the early 1900s, during what church historians call the “Great Reversal,” mainline conservative churches have been wary of substantial involvement with the poor, or “getting their hands dirty.”

The Great Reversal was a pivotal point when conservative and liberal theology parted ways about church involvement in social action. Liberals sought to bring the Kingdom of God on Earth through social action. Conservatives recoiled at this new so-called “social gospel” and focused primarily on the world as a fallen place, and getting everyone out of this mess into heaven.

Until then, the church was active in taking care of the poor and vulnerable. In fact, as Rodney Stark writes in his book “The Early Rise of Christianity,” this was the primary path as the early church grew: Believers welcomed the poor and homeless into their midst. When plagues would sweep through cities, Christians were the ones who gave up their lives to save those afflicted.

In the past few decades, there has been resurgence within the conservative evangelical Church ranks to care for the poor.  Many have realized that the Gospel is not just spiritual or physical. It is both.

Unfortunately, the way many churches have responded causes more damage than helping. One such expert on alleviating poverty, Phil Hissom, commented that, in many ways, “The church is not a sleeping giant waking up, but rather a bull in a china cabinet.” Churches are serving the poor, but are doing so on their agenda. This breeds unintended consequences that separate the affluent from the poor.

A verse Polis references often is Proverbs 19:2, “Passion without knowledge is not good, how much more will hasty feet miss the way.”

We should applaud and affirm churches serving the needy. God is at work in people’s hearts in taking care and getting to know people in times of distress. But we need to do so in the best possible way.

Polis has a unique voice in this conversation, particularly though Dignity Serves. We are learning as we go along, allowing the poor to teach and mold us. We have discovered that the poor hold strong perceptions about outside churches and their ministries coming in to help. We have asked our friends in distress what they think.

Too often, churches ministering to the needy are amazed at what they see: the homeless who are starving for a meal, how many people show up to eat, or their children running around in diapers. Some Christians actually will invite others to see the poor people and how they live – in order to get a proper perspective on how much God has given them. This is a visit to the zoo gone horribly wrong. No one likes to be objectified, so why do we think people in poverty like to be?

Let me repeat:  We should affirm and applaud churches that step up to help the poor. But let’s remind our brethren not to miss a relationship built on giving and receiving. As Bob Lupton writes in his book “Toxic Charity”: “To be a recipient of charity is to sacrifice some of your human dignity.”

Let’s serve people in need but do so in the best possible way. Let’s be involved in their lives but make it clear that we are not there to “solve their issues” but to offer ourselves as friends. We cannot be for someone until we are with them.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

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Yeah, But This Is My Space

June 27, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – There is a coffee shop in Atlanta that is extremely close to heaven on earth. It is situated beautifully on the Chattahoochee River.

Recently I decided to go there and to do some work. I got up early, and I was the first customer at 8 am. I strategically sat at on the corner of the deck, overlooking the river, trees and pool. Heaven had just come crashing to earth.

Except there was one problem. Another person decided to make the deck her personal workspace. She began making phone calls, and her voice was loud – so loud that it interrupted my concentration and work.

How could she barge in on what was my place?

I mean, I woke up early to get to this special place. It was my mine.

This happens all the time, right?

We show up and think that whatever we see is ours.

This has been happening throughout world history. The Romans showed up and thought everything was theirs. The Anglos showed up in what was called “The New World” and claimed this country as their own.

Northerners move to the South and think the “new” space is theirs.

People migrate from the suburbs to the city, thinking this urban area is “their” space, claiming it as “their” neighborhood. Eventually these new city dwellers push out the poor through a process called gentrification.

What happens when this occurs?

One person or people group is displaced. They lose their “home,” be it their dwellings or a neighborhood and its character.

This happens in the geographical and relational sense. We show up and tend to push people into what we want them to be, with little regard for their history or to what God has been doing in their lives.

We want to transform neighborhoods and old homes and longtime mom-and-pop businesses, to make them  respectable, neat and tidy. The root of this you ask? Control.

When I grew up with my four brothers and cousin in Bumpville, Pa., we used to frequent the Gorsline’s swimming pool, over the hill two miles away. We went there all the time. Sometimes we were the only ones there. You know what happened when we came over the crest of the hill and saw others in the pool? We were angry. Why? This was our pool. And why did we think it was our pool? Because we had spent the most time there, and now wanted to control it.

What we didn’t know or consider was that the pool – this spot – was never ours to begin with.

As we live in the City of Atlanta, we believe we are called to respect the people who were here long before we showed up.  We are called to listen extremely well these people as we also seek to follow what the spirit is asking us to do. We believe we are called to share this space with as many people as God brings along our path.

We are called to steward everything. We are called to love longtime residents, and to love the most vulnerable and marginalized among them.

This space was never ours. We are called to hold all that God has given us very loosely. After all,  it all belongs to Him.

Dan Crain and family

Dan Crain and family

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Smart Aid: Asking Good Questions When Supporting A Cause

June 10, 2012

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

If you know me at all, you will not be surprised that I am consistently tweeting, facebooking, blogging or just talking loudly in public about practices that might seem good on the surface but, when the curtain is pulled back, reveal something other.  This blog post is about that.

If you’re anything like me, even if it’s hidden deep within the recesses of your heart, you have a desire to make a difference in the world when it comes to those suffering under the weight of poverty.  I have chosen to make this quest a part of my daily life by choosing a career in which I research and apply best practices of healthy and effective ways to see that change occur. But I realize that this path is not for everyone, and I get that for most, helping the poor is a matter of discipline and sacrifice.

I have a friend who said to me, “I’m not like you.  The poor make me anxious and sad.”

In her honesty, even she tries, in her own way, to do her part to alleviate the burden of poverty.  So whether you sponsor a kid in Africa or volunteer a few times a year at a food pantry, most of us are at least thinking that we’d like to help.

So we pay attention to commercials, tweets, magazine articles, blogs or recommendations of friends who tout their organization of choice that is helping the poor.  From education to ending hunger, AIDS to malaria, homelessness to home repair, we are drawn to causes that stir our emotion.  More than that though, I’m convinced that unconsciously, we are drawn to causes that seem easy to fix.

The suffering of others makes us feel uncomfortable, so we race to fix it in ways that make sense to us: Buy a pair of shoes, and someone else’s kid will get a free pair.

 “Ahhh,” we sigh with relief, “I feel better knowing I did my part.”  But did we? Watch this video to see what I mean.

Recently, a friend of mine was tweeting about a popular web-based non-profit that is feverishly working to give away products, services and cash to those who need it.  I wanted to have an informed conversation with her about why she chose to support this particular organization, so I went to the website to read up.  I combed through every page, every emotionally stirring story, all the FAQ’s about how to give and how it works.

My hunch was that this organization hadn’t spent much time researching dignified ways of building relationships with giver and receiver.  I guessed that there was not a thorough process to truly understand the nature of the needs, and therefore truly understand the most effective sustainable solutions.

My hunch was right.  Nowhere on the website did it address reciprocity, giving and receiving, or HOW the organization approaches vetting the needs.  So I inquired.  I sent an email to “hello@such&such.org.”  Here is a sample of a few of the questions (I have changed some of the exact wording to keep the organization anonymous):

  • Can I have access to the system that you use to vet potential needs?
  • What standard/s do you use to understand the nature of the needs you meet?
  • Is there a way to follow up with the recipient after their need has been met?
  • Is there evidence to support that the $ raised is contributing to lasting transformation?  If so, what measurements are used to produce the evidence?
  • Is there a platform for relationships to be formed between giver and receiver?
  • What is expected of the receiver in the process?

After a month of not hearing back from anyone, I emailed it again, thinking perhaps it got lost out there in the interwebs.  Within an hour, I a got a response from the founder of the organization.

I will spare you the details of his snarky response, but let’s just say that he did not “have time or capacity to answer my questions” and was not at all thrilled that I was asking these questions in the first place.  After a few back and forth emails, he asked if we could speak over the phone.  We set up a time to talk.  He never called.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not unusual.  When I question the methods and philosophy of any giving organization, I am typically met with defensiveness, dismissive language and a general incredulity that I would question the integrity of the leader/founder/staff, etc.

I coach and consult non-profits toward dignified service that promotes healthy relationships between giver and receiver, and asking probing questions is a part of my nature. I wish more people would do a healthy examination of the organizations they support with their money, time or tweeting power.  It takes more time and effort up front, but perhaps if we all started doing it, organizations would be more intentional about educating themselves and others on the best ways to help the people that they feel called to help.

Blindly trusting that your money, time, skills, or tweeting power is automatically going to make a positive difference contributes to factors such as dependency, self-sufficiency, paternalism between the haves and have-nots and may, in fact, be making the plight of those you wish to help worse.

If you are squirming in your seat, feeling flushed and ready to fire off an email or message me – or better yet, post on my wall for all to see – just take a second to think about this.

I know you want to be a good steward of your resources.  I know that you care about others.  I also know that for the most part, you may not have spent a ton of time researching best practices of dignified service to the poor.  I have.

Believe me, I can speak with a deep conviction on this because I used to blindly support “good” causes, too.  I was addicted to the idea of giving and helping the poor and had no actual idea if my efforts were doing what I set out to do.

I will never forget the first time a beautiful Malawian woman point-blank told me that my giving demeaned and disempowered her and her people. It was shocking to me that my good intentions were not enough.  I am still learning, and my philosophies are fluid and still have plenty of growing space.

But what I do know is that asking good questions will lead to smarter aid.

I believe we can make a difference if we do it with wisdom and maturity.

Next time a cause catches your fancy, by all means, look in to it!  You are drawn to that cause for a reason.  But ask questions!

You can start by taking a look at the questions I posed above and revise them to fit the purposes of the cause you want to support.  Or create your own questions that will help you understand the “hows” and “whys” of what that organization does.

Tell your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all about the cause you are supporting.  Better yet, tell them how you vetted the organization so you can stand with confidence that you are partnering with a thoughtful, intelligent and dignified cause that empowers lasting change.

Here are a few more questions that might get you started:

  • Who is involved in the decision making process in your organization?
  • Does the recipient get a say in the how, when and where goods and services are distributed?
  • Are the solutions being applied from inside the problem or outside the problem?
  • Whose idea was this solution?
  • What will happen when my funds/time/skills have been applied?  What is the follow-up process?

There are many, many more questions.  If you work in the development arena, I’d love to hear your suggestions of other good questions to ask when seeking to support a cause. I’d love to hear the responses you get when you start asking.

Either way, may you feel empowered to know, truly know, that you are a part of something healthy and beautiful.

Happy Asking!

Rebecca Lujann Loveless is the executive director of Polis Institute. She can be reached at rebeccalujanloveless@gmail.com.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Homeless Living in Woods Aren’t Invisible to God’s Eyes

May 10, 2012

By Nancy Blue

My heart for people living without permanent shelter was always instinctual. God’s timing, and my introduction through volunteering, has nurtured my compassion and commitment and taken me from city streets to the woods.

My initial exposure was through IDignity, which helps to provide IDs and other documentation critical to help the poor. Homeless men and women – and particularly those just out of jail – can be overwhelmed trying to negotiate the complicated system, and to afford documents such drivers licenses, birth certificates and Social Security cards, which many of us take for granted.

Once I realized the importance of basic identification for a person to function in society, I also began to volunteer at Compassion Corner, a Christian drop-in center in downtown Orlando. It is often described as a “listening ministry.”

Nancy Blue and a friend who lives in the woods.

Nancy Blue and a friend who lives in the woods.

If IDignity had opened my eyes, Compassion Corner opened my heart.

I became acquainted with individuals on the street. I heard their stories and learned their names, and my heart stirred with desire to know more about them. I wanted to serve these vulnerable men and women more.

Two years with IDignity and Compassion Corner had planted seeds in my heart. I felt he Holy Spirit tugging to begin a ministry to the homeless. You could say God even provided a MapQuest destination: I was guided to minister to people living in the woods west of Orlando.

I gathered together pastors and deputy sheriffs, learning as much as I could about where and how these men and women live.

Some live in tents or under tarps. Many sleep on the ground. Water moccasins and spiders are abundant. Like those without shelter elsewhere, some camp residents are tormented by addictions, mental-health problems and other issues.

Although the homeless are very visible on the streets of downtown Orlando, these people are generally out of sight, under cover of the woods.

After several months, I took steps to meet them in person and learn about their needs.

The overriding principle in my mind was to answer the questions they were asking, not provide what I assumed they needed. (This is a central tenet of Dignity Serves, and I’d gone through training from the Polis Institute.) I knew in my heart that this was to be a ministry based on personal relations. I was not to be just a person to provide them with “stuff.” I wanted to hear their stories and to let them know that someone cares about them. I wanted to earn their trust.

I offer several brief accounts – not to boast that I am a special person or need credit for entering into these situations – but only that I have followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (I have changed the names of the people, although the stories are true.)

ONLY LOVE CAN WIN MARY

Mary was beaten regularly as a child, but her mother faithfully attended church. As a Christian, I have no argument for her. Only love can win this one, acts of kindness that heal Mary’s perceptions of God.

She has lived most of her life on the streets or in the woods. An adult son stays with her.

Mary is very intelligent and loves to read. She has a library at her campsite of more than 1,000 books. She delights in sharing them with me.

Once Mary got an ID, she obtained her first library card. Her quality of life is greatly enhanced.

Mary and I have formed a great relationship. If the day comes when she wants to discuss “eternal subjects,” I will be there.

TEARS FROM TOUGH GUY BOB

Bob has an amazing story, and we had many conversations. Then one day this tattooed, bearded, rough guy mentioned his daughter. After some gentle prompting from me, he shared that he had left his wife 22 years before – and when they parted, he had left behind a 2-year-old daughter. How he wept. What an opening into his heart!

It was not easy to find his wife and daughter. I played detective, and found them on Facebook. Bob and his daughter spoke by phone. Within two months, his daughter and wife came from Missouri to get reacquainted. I was privileged to be there at the reunion – a great blessing. Today, Bob, his wife and his daughter regularly keep in touch. (And he still cries.)

A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR JOHNNY

Johnny was a deaf-mute who lived in the woods. He sold scrap metal and dove in dumpsters to survive. I offered to help him get documentation and food stamps. Little did I know that the process would consume countless weeks, with many frustrations. If it were difficult for me to deal with the system, imagine how impossible it would be for Johnny to navigate the maze.

The first step was getting an ID and food stamps for Johnny. Then he could receive SSI Disability, and move to a small duplex. I became his payee (a person designated by Social Security to manage money for one who is not able to).

As Johnny settled in, we dared to think all was well. Then he began complaining of leg pain. I drove him to the doctor. His leg was white, and his arteries had collapsed. I immediately took him to ORMC, where doctors amputated Johnny’s leg. Suddenly it was a whole new world for both of us. Had gangrene set in, he would have died. Johnny’s story is far from over.

■ ■ ■

My interactions with some begin with a need: providing extra food, helping with applications for food stamps, or providing blankets, tents and mosquito spray. There are many people, though, I have helped by not trying to fix what’s wrong, but by recognizing their importance as God’s people – we are equal in His eyes despite our circumstances in life.

I believe God is glorified when we listen and enter into relationships with those who are scorned or often forgotten.

I could never have anticipated all of the difficulties or the amazing blessings that have accompanied my call to serve men and women in the woods.

Nancy Blue can be reached at fiddler10@msn.com. When she isn’t working with homeless men and women in the woods, Nancy Blue and her husband, Randy, are musicians (www.stringsandthingsorlando.com).

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs. 

Recipe for Friendship: A Simple Meal

March 12, 2012

Licensed through clipartof.com

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – What happens when you share a meal with someone?

You are equals. Each person brings something to the table.

There’s a danger associated with soup kitchens and “drive-by” ministries that feed the homeless. They can divide us.

I observed something interesting with a friend one day at Retreat from the Street, a ministry of Church on the Street, a non-profit in Atlanta devoted to being with and for our most vulnerable neighbors who are homeless.

Our typical schedule is to gather at 9:30 for Bible study and prayer, then to break for lunch around 11:30. Lunch is catered, and always very delicious. After the study, I waited in line with everyone else, grabbed a meal and sat down.

As I ate, a friend named Tycone approached. He said he was glad that I was sharing a meal, but his tone hinted at surprise. I asked, “Why?”

Tycone’s reply: Most volunteers who serve the poor and homeless do just that: They serve. Volunteers usually offer something to someone. Although they do this with pure motives, in the name of Jesus, such “serving” can often create barriers of trust. What people need is not another handout. What they desire is that someone sit with them and speak their names.

People on the streets have a deep desire to be treated with dignity.  They appreciate it when we treat them as we would family or friends, spending time with them, taking an interest in their lives. They crave what you and I do: For us to care about them as individuals, to open our hearts to them – to show them love.

When I ate at Retreat from the Street, did it mean that I was lowering myself to the position of someone on the street? Absolutely not. I was trying to communicate that I value Tycone as a person, and what he has to say.

I once asked a friend living on the streets what would be the best way to help someone in his position.  He pondered my question about a week before he answered.

He said it was time. It wasn’t food. It wasn’t clothes. It wasn’t even a job.

Nothing is as important as time in a committed relationship. Many people on the streets are there because of failed relationships. I would argue that many of us are where we are in life because of failed relationships.

About a month ago, I ran into some friends at the Wendy’s in our neighborhood. They live on the streets and immediately asked me for money to eat.

When someone asks for food, I always try to suggest that we eat together. I tell them that I will buy if they will give me some of their time.

As I stepped up to the counter to order, it hit me why this felt so good:

This is precisely is what Jesus did. He shared meals with people – tax collectors, prostitutes, and outsiders and sinners. No one else wanted to hang out with them. He did. By no means do I compare myself with Jesus, but maybe in that moment, through God’s grace, I was demonstrating to the most vulnerable people in Atlanta that God loved them.

Sharing a meal with people levels the playing field. There are no helpers or people being helped. This is hugely significant: When we “break bread,” one with another, we partake of the same food. More important, we share a bit of ourselves, a bit of our lives, in friendship and in love.

When panhandlers who say they’re hungry approach you, create some space. Take these neighbors to dinner, grab a bite to eat and get to know them.

When you learn their stories, you won’t think of them as homeless people. You’ll consider them as neighbors. Welcome them into your life.

It’s your life that will be greatly changed.

Dan Crain and his family.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Why don’t you think you can be Holy?

December 8, 2011


By Bill Behr

What does it mean to be “Holy”?  Is being Holy reserved only for clergy in the church and saints?  Do I have a desire to pursue a life of holiness?   Why or why not?

These are questions I asked myself growing up.

Being “Holy” sounds as if I have to lead an almost perfect life – something impossible for me or anyone else to achieve.  Fortunately, there are those like Keith Drury, author of “Holiness For Ordinary People,” who reminds us that “Holiness is not just for pastors, missionaries, and retired folk who have enough time to pray all day. Holiness is for us all.”

So what is Holiness?  Mr. Drury writes, “Holiness is loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.  Simply put, holiness is Christlikeness.”

Jesus did say in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wait – you said nobody is perfect.  Why would Jesus ask us to be perfect then?  Do you still feel like the bar for Holiness is set too high for you?  If you are going to try to be Holy all by yourself, then you are probably right.

Dr. Steve Harper at Asbury Theological Seminary teaches that the original Greek translation for “perfect” in this verse is telos, which means “whole, mature or complete.”  In the earlier verse of Matthew 5:44, 46, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you….If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

Dr. Harper points out that Jesus is referring to agape love, telos love or complete love here.  Who else could love their enemies except someone who had Christ-like love?  Jesus is teaching us to try to love our neighbor and our enemies with this radical love.  That sounds impossible.

There is only one man who claimed to be God’s Son and lived with a radical love.  One man, who was fully man and fully God, and who lived with the poor.  This man proclaimed freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed.  This man, Jesus Christ, showed us the ultimate example of His complete love by sacrificing himself for you and me, personally, to pay the price of our own sins that we cannot ever fully repay.  Isn’t it great that someone loves you that much!

Christ focused His time and love serving the poor and those forgotten (the imprisoned and oppressed).   We have access to this same perfect and Holy love by accepting Christ’s invitation to follow Him.  We are able to become Holy only through God’s Grace.

When we accept this gift of God’s Grace, we begin to be transformed.  We start to become Holy.  We begin to see the world through His heart.  We begin to see it is possible to not only love neighbors, but maybe, with God’s help, to forgive enemies, to love those who are really hard to love. It is never too late.

I have Good News: Jesus will help you to become Holy!  Be Christ-like to someone today!

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs. 

Why Don’t We Love the Poor?

December 2, 2011

I was raised in the United States and have always been surrounded by love, a caring family and a Christian faith-filled community.  I had a good education.  Out of college, I found a good job.

My earliest career goal was to accumulate enough wealth so I could live a life of comfort and convenience.  As I started to achieve success, I started to selfishly see myself with more value than those who had less.

Does someone with wealth have more value than someone who was raised poor?

There are those who are born into families with more and those who are born into families with less.

The common theme in all our lives – despite how we were raised – is that we all have broken God’s heart. Better said, we have all hurt someone, and we have all been hurt by someone else.  The pain is real.  It transcends the rich and the poor – everyone has experienced sadness, anger, shame and remorse.

Part of the reason we hurt each other is the lack of understanding of the great value we each have.

In Genesis 1:26-27, we are shown that God created man and woman in His image – God’s image!  What?

God is so amazingly creative! There never has been and there will never be another you __________ (fill in your name).

How can God make billions of people in the past and billions of people in the future and still not copy me?  OK, I am starting to see that maybe I am … unique. OK, if I am this one-of-a-kind person and made in God’s image … maybe I am special.  Yes, I guess I am more valuable than I thought!  So what does that have to do with the poor?  Everything!

Yes, the truth is that you and I are very special, very unique, and have great, great value.  But what about people who are criminals – they have less value because of their crimes, right?

I mean, if I do good for others, God notices those good acts … and thus God deems me to be more valuable because I did good works. Surely I’m more valuable than a felon.  Actually, that is a big lie.

Society will teach us that the haves are more valuable than the have-nots, the good are more valuable than the bad, and the rich are more valuable than the poor.  All lies!  The Truth is that God created all men and women equal … with great amazing value … no matter how little money you have.  Your value (dignity) and my value (dignity) do not change in God’s eyes.  He still desires us to love Him and love our neighbor as ourselves.

The truth is that we all have hurt one another, because we do not see the amazing value God sees in each of us.  We tend to focus on our own needs and lose focus on the wonderful, valuable people around us.  That includes the beautiful poor.  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers or sisters, you did for me.”

Lean in and listen well to the poor – someone with great and amazing value is in your presence!

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empower those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

How Should We Help the Homeless?

October 28, 2011

This important question has not been answered well, in part, because there are so many facets to homelessness. The truth is, if we are followers of Jesus, then His command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) means that we are all called to serve the homeless, because they are our neighbors. They live all around us in our city.

One way to help is to use a set of Dignified Questions as your guide, in order, such as What can YOU do?, What can THEY do?, What can WE do?, and finally What can I do?

It starts with compassionate listening in order to hear the problem. Once a person presents you with a need, start the solution process with the question – “What can YOU do?” This shows the person asking for help that they actually have great value and maybe some resources to address their own problem that they have not considered. It also shows them that you value their own opinion and empowers them to think and rise above the problem at hand.

If the problem cannot be resolved with the first question, then the next question should be – “What can THEY do?” “THEY” are the people that care (family and friends) in the person’s life. THEY have resources and could individually or collectively help to resolve the problem. And doing this recognizes the dignity of the family and friends that can contribute to help.

If the problem still cannot be resolved, then you should move to the next question – “What can WE do?” This is a good dignified approach because you are not solving the problem 100% by yourself. It is a collaborative effort to work to find a solution. For instance, a woman asking you to help her collect her food stamps might be best served by agreeing to show her how to do this on the computer. You could even help her setup an e-mail account, so she can communicate online with the government to get her food stamps becoming equipped to help herself and others in the future. The dignified solution is found together and each one did their part to help.

Lastly, if the problem is still unresolved, you need to make a decision by asking – “What can I do?” Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can I show love to this person? Being empathetic and listening compassionately is a great start. God calls us to recognize that each person has been created with great dignity – great value. You might not be able to solve their problem, but you can find ways to show respect to them. Everyone has a story and everyone likes to be given devoted attention that shows them they are important.

This should help bring us full circle, knowing that God is the only One who can have any lasting impact or change in the lives of the homeless. The truth is we all need help. We are all struggling with present and past problems that are unresolved. Do you want to help the homeless? Then set out to love your neighbor by asking Dignified Questions when they need your help. Lean in and listen well. In the end, true help (change) can only come through Jesus Christ, who gives us healing from all our struggles and makes all things new.