Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Helping the poor...What can we do?

I had an interesting experience today. For the last few days there has been a man standing at the end of the off ramp I use in traveling to my office. He stands as straight as he can in his rags with a cardboard sign written in black marker, “will work for food”. It is always a hard sight to see in life.

Today, I had stepped out during my lunch hour, and on the way back to the office I was finishing lunch in the car. As I took the exit and drove down the ramp, I once again saw this man. I have had more than my fill of my lunch by now, so I pull over and hand him a granola bar and yogurt. He very politely responded, “thank you brother.” Feeling the need to bring God into the picture I replied, “God bless you” and I drove off as a line of cars had built up behind me.

Driving away I thought what good were my actions.

“Sure, this man has a little more to eat.”

“Gee, I hope he has a spoon for the yogurt.”

“Maybe I should get a pizza and sit down with him for a while”

“What can really be done to bring change and hope into this man’s life?”

Connected to this event, last week a Pastor I work with shared with me a note he received from a man looking for some charity. The policy of the church is to help people once, and then continue to help them with the condition that they get involved in our church. The reasoning behind the policy is understandable. No organization can afford to be abused time and time again. Also the church understands change will only come from communion within the body of Christ. However, I do not think a homeless person could ever become involved at out church, nor the vast majority of suburban churches.

How would he receive information without a mailing address, or access to the internet? How would he bring the snack to small group? How would he get to small group? Who would have enough trust, or enough faith to let them into the house for small group?

The needs of a man like this are clearly different. Are they? In our pursuit to reach people through homogenized styled churches, what struggles could he share the other men would relate to in an accountability group?


This is the question I throw out there. My post is not an attack on my church or any other churched. I know that most people that belong to my church want to help this man, but we do not know how. We develop policies to protect us from abuse. Is not charity meant to be abused?

I have thought, we should invite him to live with us, move into the house until he gets back on his feet. This is a terrifying option, because he could be a thief, or worse. So where does faith come in for such a man?

What can we do? Homeless shelters seem to be a band aid on the problem. Christianity has traditionally been built upon the foundation of the meek and the poor. Even Jesus tells us he is homeless, with no place to lay his head. It seems the very people God gave the Kingdom to are being denied it.

So please help me, help us, what do we do?


Sister Jen said...

"What can we do?"

My answer would be : get involved, as much as you're able or comfortable with.

The Catholic Church is dedicated to Social Justice. That is, doing its part as the body of Christ to make things better. As such, there are ample opportunities to volunteer at some of the local organizations dedicated to reaching out, such as The Hunger Task Force.

Maybe you could start a Social Justice Committee at your church, or school, or partner with another church that has one.

There are as many ways to try to help people as there are people to help. On one end, you've got someone like Mother Teresa, who dedicated herself to the poor completely. On the other end, you've got individuals who donate some of their money to an organization that helps people in need. The priest at St. John Vianney often mentions how he keeps McDonald's gift certificates in his car and hands them out to people he sees who need help.

mjonthemove said...

I don't want to disregard the charity, but McDonald's is digestable poison. That said, I'm sure he had the best of intentions.

And I hear what you are saying about involvement, Jen, but what strikes a chord about Joe's post is that he echoes my desire that all should be able to come freely.

The homeless man is not free to come and learn about Jesus, or experience Jesus in a church setting. I want to know if there is something that we can do as Christians not to bandaid needs (ie feeding programs, handouts, or even hugs), but to heal hurts, cure ailments, support hearts and lives, and really do something that will have a lasting effect.

My meager response to peddling is to offer a hug. It's different, and it shows that I care. I am almost never turned down. Is that the most loving thing to do in a on-the-street encounter situation, I hope so.

Hi. Joe. I am coming home on Tuesday. What are you doing Tuesday night?


Joe said...

Jenny, you are right on with simply get involved. I agree that something is better than nothing. As much as we might discuss what the best thing is to do, if we don't do anything we are just a bunch of sounding gongs.

McDonalds is less than ideal, but it is something, and it does help. Though I was actually once turned down by a begger when I offered to buy him a burger at the nearby McDonald's. That would not be a good ad campaign for them.

I do love the Catholics commitment to social justice, something all Christians could learn more about.

I guess I wonder though should we as followers of Christ go to the length that Mother Theresa did. Not that we commit our entire life to it, but should we welcome stange people into our homes, and give them hope. Should we take abuse to show them love.

Matt, I like the hug idea. I konw we have talked about it, and touch is a way to remind anyone of their humanity and their dignity. But there must be somehthing more, or am I searching too hard.

I also wonder if anyone reads this blog besides the two of you. Anyone else have some thoughts? I am really looking for some input on this one

Kenuchfleck said...

Well, maybe a Mac burger would be best, considering the calorie content. A burger like that would surely do a famished man some good. I wonder though if he was famished or just a little bit hungry, the folks in Somalia, they're famished. Funny what we consider needy or not in this land of plenty (not to downplay in anyway your generosity Joe:). So, if you’ve read this far you’ve noticed two things. First, I’ve not made any points at all, and Second, you’re still reading. But I'll actually try to close with one little thought. WE ARE TO BUSY TO HELP REHAB ANYONE OR ANYTHING!! It would take some serious restructuring of your entire life to mentor this man. Forget about hanging out with your friends or even attending that fun small group. Forget about your religious training in Illinois, no time for that either. Would you drop all your passions and pursuits to effectively teach this man? Or is there some middle ground between hand wringing and total indifference?

Joe said...

Ben, perhaps my passion should be to help this man or at least men and women like him. Maybe my priorities are wrong...I guess that is what I am wrestling through right now.

I had a bit of an epiphany about the poor, so I need to write another blog. If not by the time I leave for West Virginia, then I am sure afterward will have plenty of new thoughts. Thanks for sharing Ben. I do think a Big Mac will always help the hungry.

Friend David said...

One point: The body of Christ has many parts, and those parts have specialized gifts.

Yes, we should all be concerned with the poor. But I think there should be some element of "calling" when we talk about in-depth treatment of underlying conditions. What I mean is, can we say that helping--truly investing in the lives of--the homeless is more important than...reaching out to unwed or expectant mothers? How about discipling new believers so their faith becomes rooted? Welcoming newcomers to the community and drawing them into fellowship (this is a passion of mine, as you know)?

I would love to do all of these, but we all know I can't. So I must rely on the Body (and the Head of the Body) to provide what is lacking. And if there is no structure or ministry in my church to address the need, I should 1) call attention to it and/or 2) consider whether I should assume a leadership role in this area (am I called?).

Whatever area I am drawn or called to, I imagine I can still find time to share my lunch with someone in need.

And yes, Joe, I read your blog. This is the first time in a while, but I always treasure your thoughts/impressions.

tory dolan said...

Joe... I stumbled upon your blog via Brandon's blog. I'm anxious to read more of your blog, and enjoy your thoughts a great deal. This is something I struggle with a great deal as well - what to do. I met a guy named Willie downtown about 2 months ago, and he too was looking for some help. He and his friend had not had much to eat, and were wondering if I could help in any way possible. While I was waiting to meet some friends, I decided to walk with him and his friend to the local Pick N' Save. I told him we'd get him some food that would last him the week - bread, peanut butter & jelly so that he could make multiple sandwiches, and some other things to help him make it throughout the week. However, as we walked to the store, he began to tell me his story... He didn't have a job, got evicted from his apartment, had all his stuff stolen, and had nothing but the clothes he had on and a few belongings in his backpack. He showed me how the pants didn't fit, and the shirt had holes in it, and that no one would hire him because a) he didn't have a home and b) he looked pretty ratty. He began to tell me that he needed clothes, he needed a bus pass to try to make it to interviews, and he needed food to stay alive. As he continued to tell me all of this, it sank so deep within my heart that his struggles were not just for food, but one thing right after another. As I left Willie (giving him and his friend a hug - which you're right Matt, does make a pretty cool impact) he told me where I could find him if I was able to help him out in the future. I struggled to think about how I could help him, and found myself asking some of the same questions. I don't want to just band-aid this, I don't want to just temporarily fix this - but what would a permanent fix look like? What would true, genuine help look like? And I still have yet to answer that question...

However, I was also left with the idea that the bandaids aren't evil in the meantime. Even though we don't always know or have the right answer to truly help someone, even though it's not a long-haul fix, giving someone a granola bar and yogurt may have been just enough to get the gentleman you helped, or the bread, peanut butter and jelly enough to get Willie through, or even the big mac to get the other person through until we CAN figure out what is the best way to help, you know?

Thanks for bringing up this topic though... It's definitely something worth thinking about, getting involved in, and getting to the bottom of.

jenna said...

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jenna said...

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jasmine said...

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Mari said...

I thought this a poignant post as I have recently been attending an experiential group where we have been discussing just this issue. I thought that your comment about sitting down with the man was the closest to a possible solution as this would allow you to ask him how best to help him. This man is the person who knows what he needs ? Ask him, this is the hardest thing as it requires involvement, personal involvement. Not just the emperical handing out of cash ! Thanks for the post, food for thought.