Recently, I described a missed opportunity to help a mother buy $7.43 worth of baby food. There are no acceptable excuses. I messed up. But getting involved with helping those in poverty is not easy. Improving financial resources alone is no guarantee. In fact, improving financial resources alone can actually complicate matters. Often, for every extra dollar earned, there is a corresponding dollar of benefits taken away. Breaking the bonds of Poverty is complicated and takes discipline and dedication from everyone involved.
So, how could individuals or churches become more proactive helping those struggling with poverty?
Steve Jennings, Executive Director of Teens Opposing Poverty (TOP) shared an example: A youth group from Mountain View United Methodist Church of Forest, Virginia served about 50 homeless and low income people at a park in Lynchburg, Virginia. Bethany (name changed) was there almost every time. She is a young, single mother who came out of an abusive relationship. Her three young children had been placed in foster care. She has a number of issues to deal with but is working with social services to meet their requirements so her children can be returned. She shared a number of challenges including her heartache over not having her kids. They have been separated and frequently moved. Her oldest son was moved 5 times in less than a year.
I asked if we could pray for her. She eagerly accepted. Mountain View’s youth pastor and three youth joined me. Often youth aren’t comfortable but one, Caitlyn, said “Hey, God” and lifted up Bethany in a heart-felt prayer that moved us all. By the time we finished, Bethany was sobbing. Caitlyn hugged her and began to comfort her. Bethany’s tears continued for some minutes. After a while, the tears were replaced with smiles and joyful conversations.
The two of them sat together for over a half hour, building a bond of friendship. Bethany later told me how much Caitlyn’s comfort helped. This sort of connection doesn’t happen on every trip, but it happens quite often. I count it a blessing every time. Being able to see these wonderful connections is what makes me eager to get to work each day. – Steve Jennings
In, “What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty” a minister asks congregations:
1. How many contacts were made in neighborhoods of poverty?
2. What kind and how many links were established with social service agencies?
3. How many one-on-one relationships were established with people from poverty?
4. How many individuals were helped with the transition from poverty to work?
5. What kinds of continuing education did the church provided to assist with transition?
6. What is your church’s long range plan for working with the poor?
7. What specific steps were taken to educate mothers in poverty?
Tough questions but necessary if we are to take our commitment to God seriously:
• I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy in your land.” –Deut. 15:11
• Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. – Prov. 31:8
• For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was homeless and you gave me a room. – Mat. 25:35
A guide prepared by the Task Force for the Bishop’s Initiative on Children and Poverty shared the story of a church offering to house homeless guests one night a week during cold months. They were to pick them up at the downtown center, provide supper, a place to sleep, breakfast, a sack lunch and to return the guests early in the morning to the downtown area. Assuming that it would be difficult to find volunteers to cook supper every week, the church decided to participate on Wednesday nights to coincide with regular weekly fellowship dinners. In this way the homeless guests could be incorporated into the already planned dinners, avoiding the need to find additional cooks.
This decision originally based on convenience, has had a transforming effect on the congregation. When on a regular basis you share a meal with someone you begin to develop relationships. Developing a relationship with a man who has worked all day at a low-paying job, will spend the night sleeping on a floor and will get up before dawn in order to get to work on time prompts you to reconsider long-held beliefs about who the homeless are.
Developing a relationship with a woman who speaks little English and has two small children causes you to consider the critical importance of child care. Developing a relationship with a bright ten-year-old who will go to school the next day not knowing where he will sleep that night causes you to grieve for potential that may be lost. Developing a relationship with an elderly man who thankfully celebrates the joy of a well prepared meal eaten with people of all generations causes you to remember the things and the people that are really important in your own life.
Is becoming more proactive helping those struggling with poverty easy? Of course not!
Is becoming more proactive helping those struggling with poverty critically important? Absolutely!
Next Week: More examples of getting involved with helping the poor among us. You can learn more about Steve Jennings and “TOP – Teens Opposing Poverty” at www.teensopposingpoverty.org.