Poverty and Appropriate Responses

two trashy memories

Two Trashy Memories – One Beautiful Result

Memory #1:

I recall the day vividly. A short-term team had come to visit and the first task on their list was to clean the green space in the center of the neighborhood. The space was filled with garbage, litter and overgrown weeds. No one had cared for it in months, maybe years. The team, having landed only a matter of hours before, graciously put on their work gloves and dug in. They worked for hours and at the end of the day the green space was cleaned and mowed. It looked great and the group and community smiled.

Memory #2:

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september 8

Responding to Poverty: Who’s right, Luke or Paul?

Luke 3:11 says: “And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

2 Thess. 3:10 says: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

So which is it? Should I give my tunic away or should I make them work to buy their own tunic? Do I help by giving or do I help by restraining to give? Who do I believe Dr. Luke or the Apostle Paul?

The Bible seems to indicate that when helping those in need there aren’t any cut and dry answers. It seems, sometimes we are told to help by supplying physical need, and other times we are told to help by letting the person help themselves first. It’s certainly confusing to me and I wonder if it has been confusing for others too?
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july 2

The Undeserving Poor

The problem is, I grew up in church. I raised my hand to receive Jesus when I was five years old. And, yeah, a few more times after that just to make sure it stuck.

Have you ever been jealous of other people’s testimonies? I have. I know people who can get up in church and say that Jesus rescued them from drug addiction or forgave them for adultery. What can I say? I was nurtured in the faith practically from the cradle. I was taught all the rules and supported from every side to keep them. I genuinely want to please God, so I have always been a good girl.

The problem is, I TOTALLY get where the Pharisees are coming from. I mean, we try so hard to get it right. We really hunger and thirst for righteousness. We know our Scripture. And we—the Pharisees and I—slip so easily into loveless-ness. In Luke 7:41-43, Jesus had this little conversation with a Pharisee named Simon:
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Todd’s Experience

From Project to Friend: Todd’s Experience

It started through a Thanksgiving dinner outreach event at the church. A homeless man, down on his luck and wrestling with the addictions of life sitting at the same table as Todd a former owner of a successful business and volunteer at the Thanksgiving event. A little turkey and a 20-minute conversation lead to a seven-year friendship of mutual blessing.

Todd’s story

He walked by homeless beggars on his way to work in downtown Cincinnati for many years and always felt a nudging to help but never really knew how. For years Todd had been a faithful volunteer at the church and had been involved with various outreach events but had never really fully been trained or equipped to handle what he would begin that Thanksgiving day.

Todd met Danny at Thanksgiving 2006 when he was seated at the same table for the church Thanksgiving outreach event. They talked for a few minutes and soon found that they had a few similar experiences that provided the basis for their conversation. Danny mentioned that he was in a rough stage of life and was living in the woods behind the nearby trailer park. He had no job and no way to get his life turned around. Todd felt for Danny and really wanted to help him, but remembers sitting there at the table that day with many doubts and questions. The biggest one being: What can I really do to help?

Todd invited Danny to start meeting with him regularly to talk about life. Danny shared his story and heartbreaks and Todd shared his. The two of them started a friendship that put Todd face to face with the reality of poverty, homelessness and guilty pasts, a life completely different than one he had ever personally encountered. Together they walked through years of ups and downs as Todd stumbled through serving Danny and Danny stumbled through trusting Todd. Neither of them really knew what they were doing but God continually strengthened their friendship and provided Todd with the opportunities and wisdom to love Danny and all of his life hurdles.

They walked through Danny’s despair of alcoholism, lying and poor choices; as well as the joy of reconciliation, new beginnings and God’s grace. Danny would get a job and then lose it, get a job and then lose it. But each time Todd recounts, we learned a little more about ourselves, making good choices and the God who provides…. and forgives.

A story Todd recalls is the joy on Danny’s face when he received new dentures to replace the teeth he had rotted out through years of neglect.

“He was a new man equipped with a self-esteem he hadn’t seen in years.”

Todd also remembers watching as Danny walked through the pain of discrimination and judgment, being a man often looked down upon by the clothes he wore and the life he “chose” to live.

Together they wrestled with many fears, unknowns and questions; some Danny’s and many Todd’s. “I had no idea how to do this,” Todd mentioned, “but I was continually convicted that Danny could not do this alone. Danny needed a friend, and as I soon learned a person who would listen and share in his pain.”

It’s been seven years since Todd first met Danny and he has seen God do an incredible transformation in Danny’s life. Though Danny is physically out of the woods, he still deals with some of his demons from the past. Danny is light years ahead of where he was Thanksgiving 2006, but like each of us, he is still a work in progress.

Todd also shares about how God has done a work in his life through this process. “I see Danny from a completely new perspective now. I see him through his potential and promise, his joy and capabilities, not his needs or addictions. I never realized how much God had changed my perspective until a phone conversation a few years ago. Danny ended the conversation saying, ‘Thanks Todd, I love you man.’ In that moment I realized that Danny and I had forged a great friendship that was built around the hope and trust that God was in the process of changing us both.”

It wasn’t merely a hand out that Danny needed, but rather a hand up. A friend willing to listen, care and encourage him through some dark times in life. What started as a simple outreach project by a church has grown into a great friendship; one never expected the day two men with completely different life experiences sat down at a table for a simple lunch together.


People Who Have Intervened

We talked in our previous blog about Isaiah 59:16 and the concept of intervening on behalf of the poor. I would like to share 2 examples of people I have seen intervene for the vulnerable and needy here in my city.

Loving kids in need

I have witnessed Joel’s family have incredible impact on a few of the needy kids in our neighborhood. By providing a safe and caring place to hang out and play Joel has reached into the lives of several at risk kids and blessed them by showing them the love of Jesus.

Just a few months ago Joel invited our family over for dinner and we grilled out in the driveway. Within 10 minutes three kids showed up and starting hanging out.

“We always cook for more,” he said. “I realize that for some of them this is probably their only meal today.”

Five minutes later the mentally challenged man who walks around the neighborhood to stay busy showed up and was sitting down to tacos and chips with our group. By now, the size of our original group had doubled!

Joel has been intentional in creating relationships with the hope of showing a glimpse of God’s love. Whether it be through taking kids to Wednesday night church, to the pool on a sunny afternoon, or by simply being present and available to listen, Joel has ministered to these children in a real and authentic way. He has taught and showed my family the power of intervening for the sake of the vulnerable.

Being an encouragement

This past week we had a good friend of ours stop by our house for the night while coming to town to visit some inmates at the local state penitentiary. Terry is an incredible example of sacrificial service to those in need.

Three times a year Terry makes the nearly five and a half hour trip to our city in order to see two inmates he has a friendship with. Both of the inmates have 50-year sentences and may never see beyond the walls of the prison but Terry shows them the meaning of friendship by being present to listen and encourage them in their circumstances.

In our conversations with Terry about his experiences he mentioned this, “I want to show them that they have value. That I love them and appreciate them as friends.”

God’s love has no boundaries and Terry is proving that through faithful service and love. Though Terry sends them encouraging letters from afar he has committed to being present in their lives to encourage, value and give them worth as people and gifted human beings.

The vulnerable often need a friend to share and walk with them through the pitfalls of life. Who might God be encouraging you to get to know? May each of us respond to the challenge: to understand, pray and be present in the life of others in order to share and intervene as God has called.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:8-9

Image courtesy of Frettie / Wikimedia Commons
I want you

Wanted: People Who Intervene

How can we be people who intervene on behalf of the poor? I started thinking about this idea by way of this verse in Isaiah:

“He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene…”
Isaiah 59:16

Though the context of this verse is God sending Jesus as the redeemer who intervenes and ends evil, it made me think about the Christian call to love and service, to intervene, on behalf of the poor. How can we become advocates? People willing, capable and ready to appear on the side of the marginalized and poor, and on the behalf of those that become a prey to others?

Readying to intervene

I believe that cultivating three practices – understanding, prayer and being present – will prepare us to be people who intervene.

1. Understand

We must be people willing to ask the tough questions. What are the roots of the poverty we see? How am I perpetuating these issues through my own fears, stereotypes or assumptions? What more do I need to know in order to intervene in a just and biblical way? Taking the time to learn, read and study is significant in order to become a person who advocates on their behalf.

Secondly, Have you spent enough time with the poor in deep relationship to understand their needs? Relationship is a key to understanding. As we begin to invest our time into knowing the person in poverty we will slowly become more aware of their true needs. Creating deep trustworthy relationships with the poor allows one to listen, grow and learn first hand about their challenges and needs.

2. Pray

We must be willing to be people of prayer. True life transformation does not happen apart from God. Pray for the people you are befriending and serving. Pray for their struggles, addictions and freedom. Pray for God’s breakthrough in their life and for release from the bondages they may feel.

Also pray personally for an open mind, new perspectives and clear discernment, to learn and be readily available to listen and love. How might God be calling you to be their advocate? Intervening necessitates prayer.

3. Be Present

As Christians we need to be present in the lives of the poor. Visiting, calling, writing, whatever it takes to deepen our relationship and show the value their life has. They are well worth the time it takes to listen and they need to know that.

The more we are available to encourage, support and listen to the needs of the vulnerable (being present) the more opportunity we have to advocate on their behalf.

Intervening on behalf of the poor requires effort and intentionality. After all relationships are developed over time, and time is just what it might take in order to intervene as God has called.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:8-9