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How do we minister to the poor with integrity & grace?

It’s taken me nearly a year to work through the book, “When Helping Hurts.” The content and concepts weigh heavy on my heart.

In my neighborhood the poor are easy to find. While not in the open, once you have eyes for it, you see poverty everywhere.

We have people who squat in abandoned houses nearby. Another man lives in old RV in someone’s driveway. There are several people who live in their cars at the park. And the truly down-and-out sleep in bushes next to a fence of an abandoned shopping center. And that’s just the homeless.

Poverty is big and real and within 100 yards of my house. And I wrestle with even the first step of a response to the point of paralysis.

Here’s my current wrestling points:

  • I can’t serve the poor as an excuse to share the Gospel. I don’t have the stomach for it. When I’ve done that it’s felt self-serving. As if the point of serving was so that I could feel good about myself for having shared the Gospel?
  • Putting myself in the shoes of the poor, would I want to be preached at or guilt tripped in exchange for a handout? What if they are more faithfully living out a life with Jesus than I am? Who am I to think that someone else is more needy of a benevolent God than I am?
  • Do handouts really help people at all? Is that the most honorable way we can serve the poor?
  • Maybe serving the poor, taking a posture that I’m OK and they are not, reveals that I worship the gods of comfort and stuff and not the God who died penniless? Is being poor the enemy?

Here are my starting points:

  • It doesn’t have to be big. I’ve started by simply being kind. As I ride my bike to the trolley each morning I’ve slowly gotten to know some names and begun exchanging pleasantries. It seems like just acknowledging someone’s humanity is a plausible first step.
  • Presence and consistency are probably more useful than handing something out. It’s easy for me to make a sandwich to hand out each day or maybe keep a couple dollars in my pocket for along the way. But I would have no way of knowing if that’s what they need or would give them dignity if I don’t actually know them.
  • My car doesn’t help me see them. Life wasn’t meant to be lived in the cocoon of a private car traveling at 35 mph. We are social creatures and we are slow creatures. Walking places in my neighborhood or riding my bike here and there has slowed me down to notice things/people/systems I wouldn’t notice in a car.

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2 Responses to How do we minister to the poor with integrity & grace?

  1. Jon June 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    Perhaps we’re not meant to serve the poor with a motivation of sharing Jesus but rather because they’re hurting and we see their suffering through the eyes of our Father who has placed in us a heart of flesh whereby we have compassion? The Christian shouldn’t try to produce fruits. Fruit is merely a byproduct of living by the Spirit.

    So the book is worth picking up?

    • adam mclane June 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

      I thought the book was worth the read. No idea how I got it… it just showed up one day, so I read it.

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