Recently, I read a blog (Recklessly Alive) talking about how it is so hard to remain faithful in today’s world when so many Christians are not living up to their call. I must agree that one of, if not the biggest, distractors from Christianity is Christians. We fail every day but thankfully my faith is in a risen Savior who died on a cross for me and not in His followers.
In the city I live in there has recently been a debate on the treatment of the homeless community in our city. The city decided to place wooden barriers on park benches to discourage the homeless from sleeping on the benches.
There are two sides of this story and if you follow the story on social media then you will see both in full force.
On one side you have those that see this as some egregious act that’s sole purpose is to demean and demoralize those that are already downtrodden. The other side of the argument is that the homeless create a nuisance and should not be allowed to sleep in these areas as they can present a danger to themselves and to others as often, they are not just homeless but possible on drugs as well.
Doing it Right
A friend who runs an amazing non-profit in Kingsport (ENGAGE) that is dedicated to helping those who suffer from homelessness recently posted this quote on social media.
“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”Robert D. Lupton – “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help”.
If you have the time, please visit the link above and read all about what Engage is doing.
One of the taglines that Engage uses in their mission statement is “We believe that change will only come when we get the people of the church out of the pew and serving in the community”.
If you have read any of my recent blogs, then you will know that I agree with this 100%. True ministry will never be reached inside the walls of a church. We must continue to break down the walls and address the issues inside our community.
Addressing The Issue
Now back to that quote:
Addressing the issues in our community does not mean offering handouts or free services. If we really want to address the issues in our community then we must first identify them.
When I was younger, I heard the old saying that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for his entire life. Looking back on this now, I think it has more to do with compassion than I ever thought. One of the great things that Engage does is they have job skills training and even offer some small jobs to those who are willing to work. Mowing a yard or doing some landscaping may not seem like much but it can be a great start for someone who is struggling and is just looking to get back on their feet.
What It Isn’t
There are those inside the church who think that giving homeless people money is the worst thing you can do because you simply do not know what they are going to do with it. I look at it this way; God blesses you so that you can bless others. God will judge you for how you handled his blessings and He will judge them for how they handled what was given to them. If God is leading you to give, then give. However, don’t think for a second that giving is the only answer. Often, we will give a homeless person money, food, clothing, anything that makes us feel good about ourselves. What we should be doing is looking for long term solutions so that person does not need the park bench to sleep on or the spare change in your ashtray.
Compassion – What Is It?
Compassion is not something we do to make ourselves feel better; Compassion is when we give of ourselves and put others first just as Jesus spoke. (Matt 20:16)
Compassion is not simply feeding the homeless, compassion means walking beside someone in their darkest hour and giving freely of yourself with no concern of what you will gain. Compassion does not give a dollar to the homeless and drive away without looking back. Compassion goes the extra mile.
Whether it is homelessness, drugs, mental illness, education, health care, or any other issue we have to realize they are all tied together, and we must come together as a community to figure this out.
I moved away from Kingsport for 20 years and the homeless problem today is so much worse than it was then, but it seems like no one is talking about it. If they are talking it is just idle chat about how bad things have gotten and how they wish they could go downtown without being asked for money. You know who else wishes they could go downtown and enjoy an evening with their family? I will leave that unanswered.
Instead of griping or posting on social media or even writing this blog, we need to look at the big picture.
Where To Start
Understanding that this is not just about homelessness is a major step. There are factors that led to these people being on the streets and those are the issues that must be addressed, or this will never change. Here is a list of items that need to be talked about openly and honestly if we are truly serious about being compassionate to the less fortunate:
Health Care and Access to Medication
Education and Access to Higher Education
This is not an all-inclusive list but each of these plays a roll in homelessness and we cannot be compassionate without being complete.
Doing Our Part
I will close by mentioning a Bible story that shows us true compassion:
In the story of the Good Samaritan; the Samaritan did not simply give the man what he was asking for, but he stayed with him for the night and ensured that he would be taken care of after he was gone. He never asked for anything in return. Luke tells us that the Samaritan used his own oil and wine to help care four this man’s wounds. This would not have been cheap, and the man would have had to sacrifice his own oil and wine to care for this stranger. He then gave him his own animal to ride on. He told the innkeeper to spend whatever it took to care for the man, and he would repay it when he returned. He never asked how much it would be. There was no limit to his compassion. The English translation of Luke’s words says that the Samaritan showed Compassion and I think he showed us all what Compassion really is.