I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.~Shane Claiborne
I went to see the movie The Blind Side last night. And feel in love with this story! This is something that is near and dear to my heart. I have been to church all of my life and heard how we are supposed to help those less fortunate. Unfortunately, the message I heard frequently was that being good stewards trumps helping the less fortunate. We have a responsibility to make sure that the money we give is used in the right way. We cannot let ourselves be taken advantage of after all. What if they should use the money for something we do not approve of.
Well, obviously there are ways around this. Giving gift cards for gas or groceries. Going to the electric department to pay the bill. But, I think, sometimes it is okay just to give money. I am not responsible for the choices this person makes. I AM responsible for the choices that I make. And if I am a follower of Christ then I am responsible for sharing the abundance he has blessed me with.
I heard this story told about a minister whose church was running a ministry to give assistance to the needy. One of the church members came to the minister extremely upset because he saw a man arrive in a Mercedes, park down the road, and walk to the church to receive assistance. “He’s just taking advantage of us,” the church member complained. The wise minister replied, “It’s okay. My Father has six billion people who take advantage of him everyday.”
We Christians like to take things even further tying strings to the money. If you come to our church, we will help you. If you stop sinning, at least the obvious ones, then we will help you. Greed, over-indulging in food and tv, shopping too much. Those are acceptable sins. If you believe the same doctrine we believe, we will help you. After all, how can they ever get their life straightened out without our help.
Guess what? That power is in God’s hands. Not ours. Micromanaging people’s lives does not change them. The love of God changes people. When it comes to our interactions with our fellow humans, that is our first responsibility. Loving them. Letting the love of God flow through us. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time for tough love. But it is essential to have a deep, loving, long-term relationship with someone for tough love to be effective. We like to skip over the love part straight to the tough.
We moved to our current house 11 years ago this month. We live two blocks from some housing projects that I frequently drive past running my errands. Years ago I began thinking, “There has got to be some way that I can help some of the people living there. Sometimes I would pray. But it was mostly just a longing. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart,” has been a favorite scripture of mine for a while.
Once or twice during the holidays I convinced my husband to go to this neighborhood with me to give out candy, small toys, and small devotional books onto which I attached our names and phone number hoping that someone would call. We loaded up the kids and walked through the neighborhood with Tommy muttering, “We’re gonna get killed over here.”
Then a few years ago a lady and a man showed up at my front door. She asked if she and her boyfriend could rake our yard to earn some money to buy her children Christmas presents. I talked to Tommy, and he agreed that she could. Irise came in once to use my bathroom that day. We talked for a few minutes. She offered to clean my house for me if I wanted. I’ve always been pretty adamant about taking care of that myself, but it just so happened that at this time I was going through a rough spot and was looking for someone to clean for me. Thus began my friendship with Irise.
We have known each other for several years now. I have given her rides, helped her with her job resume, tutored her GED studies, given her money, put gas in her car, helped her shop for a car, and given her a baby shower. She has cleaned my house, kept my kids, become one of my best friends, and encouraged me more than any other person ever has. She has been working full-time at a personal care home for over a year now. Working with the elderly is her passion, and she is great at it. She works hard to give her children a good life and is trying to get in a position to move out of the housing projects. She is a single mother of three who works full-time with no benefits and lives in a place where she has to worry about her children’s safety. She has an enthusiasm for life that is contagious. I don’t know how she does it. But she rarely ever gets down or discouraged.
Things I have learned over the years I’ve been friends with Irise:
There are people who have made huge mistakes in their lives that have gotten them in a bad place.They still deserve a second chance. And even third or fourth or fifth chance. People can change.
Once you get down it is nearly impossible to pull yourself up alone.
As soon as you get a job, the government starts pulling out their support.
If you make over $100/month, you are not eligible for Medicaid. Please tell me how someone who makes $800/month is supposed to pay for health care!
Sometimes the people you help end up helping you more than you ever help them.
Most people are good people just trying to make it in the world the best they can.
Sometimes even good people will take advantage of you because that is just the way they have learned to cope in the world because of what life has dealt them. It’s a survival mechanism.
You will be opposed by the people you love most when you decide to help someone who is different.
Lots of people worry about your safety if you do this sort of thing.
Safety is an illusion.
Use the common sense God gave you. Follow your gut instincts. If something feels dangerous, get away.
A little encouragement goes a long way.
Even though there are many assistance programs, most help out once or twice or temporarily and do not affect long-term change in a person’s life. They put a band-aid on the immediate problem instead of providing a real solution.
Even though there are many assistance programs, many people still fall through the cracks by not meeting certain requirements.
Last month I had the privilege of leading a small group of ladies into a better understanding of what is going on in the world and our place in it. We met at a condo in Orange Beach. Irise rode with me. When we arrived at the condo, I was amazed at how beautiful it was, even better than the photos. Irise, however, was in tears. She had never been to the beach and could not believe that she got to stay in a place that beautiful. It was a lovely weekend. 🙂
Last week a man came to my house with a story about his daughter needing asthma medicine. I gave him the $16 he asked for. I knew that his story may or may not be true. Over the course of the week, I gave him more money for this and that, he offered to rake my yard for money to pay the electric bill,and I typed up a resume for him (full of false information, it turns out) and talked to him about studying for his GED. To make a really long story shorter, by the end of the week, I began to feel uncomfortable about some things. So I called the police just to get them to keep an eye on our street because I was going to be out-of-town that day.
Friday night a police officer came to our house. Our neighbor had seen this man wandering around the neighborhood and called them. The police officer told us that they received calls about Develle (he had even given me a false name) several times a week. He’s on crack. He’s homeless. He goes around begging and offering to work for money. At that time they didn’t have anything to arrest him on. The police officer said that he is not dangerous and has never been violent. Since then he has been arrested for robbery and attempted kidnapping because he pretended to have a gun, got $20 from a couple, and forced them to drive him to an apt. complex.
So maybe I’m an idiot. Or maybe I just believe in living out the life God has called me to live. Maybe he hasn’t called you to minister in dangerous neighborhoods. But whatever he’s called you to do, it is pretty likely that it is not safe. It is pretty likely that it will not be comfortable. It is pretty likely that some of your friends and neighbors will not approve. It is pretty likely that it will require some sort of sacrifice. But I know if you follow Him, you will have a life beyond your wildest dreams. And He likes to come through in seemingly impossible circumstances.
So if you get a chance pray for Develle. He desperately needs help, and he deserves another chance at life.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mt. 9:36