Struggling with Poverty

One of the things I have found most difficult since starting at Mountair is how to handle all the people with needs who come through our doors.  Our office is open in the morning, and on an average morning we have 5-10 people come in looking for some kind of assistance.  Some are regulars who know what we’re able to offer, and others have heard through word of mouth that we might be able to help out.  In addition we have numerous people each week who stop by or call who have big needs.

Here’s what’s tough for me–I really wish we could help everyone.  When I first got there I’d get a little frustrated that we couldn’t find a way to provide for every need a person expressed.  How do you say no to someone who needs a place to stay when it’s 20 degrees outside?  How do you say no to someone who needs $400 to get to Florida where they have a job waiting for them?  After all, we’re a part of the Church of Jesus and helping the poor (and loving and respecting them) is an important part of the kingdom of God.

Well, I’ve learned pretty quickly that the legitimate needs people have will never end.  This is no reason not to help, just to say we could multiply the amount we help people by 10 and there would be more need than that.  And, if we did that our church would soon not exist anymore, and then we wouldn’t be able to help anyone.  Similarly, I have personally contributed to helping people out a number of times, and no matter how much I do that there would be no end.  As I give more it would eventually affect our ability to give to the organizations and people we have intentionally chosen to give to.

Complicating things further, I have quickly learned that there are a fair number of the poor who have become experts at scamming people.  I don’t blame them, if I was trying to survive I probably would too, and then it would just become a habit.  Nonetheless, just because someone says they need $50 for a place to stay doesn’t mean they need it for that (or will use it for that even if they do need it).

All this said, here’s a few things I’m considering now as I interact with the poor who I see on a daily basis.

  • Listen to the Holy Spirit.  There is no way for me to know how legit someone’s need is or to what extent I should help.  But if I listen to the Holy Spirit he can help me to do the right thing.
  • Hear the deeper needs.  Not all, but many of the people I interact with have many needs beyond a few bucks.  They are often addicted and emotionally broken.  An important part of ministry is getting to know them, not just giving them stuff.
  • Do what you think is right and let it go.  A couple times I’ve facilitated giving extra to people and found out later I was scammed.  I can’t dwell on that or it will keep me from giving freely in the future.

One of the things I’ve been most thankful for at Mountair is the way our congregation welcomes the poor and homeless as valued equals.  We have a number of people who have become a part of our church because they have truly felt valued and cared for.  To me, that is an essential.  If we gave out $1000 to every person who came through the door but treated them like crap (had not love ala 1 Corinthians 13) it wouldn’t be worth much.  I’ll continue to struggle with this.  Thoughts?

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About Trevor Lee

Proud to be the husband of a wonderful wife and the father of two great kids. I love to hang out with them, hang out with others, read, lis

Posted on January 22, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. For what it’s worth, here’s some things we did with assisting the poor and needy who asked us for help.
    1) Became aware of who else provides a variety of services. This allows us to say “no” to a request, but then give them some other places to seek help.
    2) Become generous in one specific area: we partner with the local food bank. For $19 we can give 100 pounds of food stuff to whoever asks in our zipcode.
    3) We don’t give out cash. Ever.
    4) We keep some gas cards on hand for people who need gas help.
    5) We are obligated to help someone who asks for help, but we are not obligated to give them what they ask for.
    6) We partnered with other neighborhood churches and discovered what they specifically offer to help the poor and needy. This way each church can specifically focus on one or two or three ways to help.

    Hope this helps. I’m not getting as many requests as you are, but I also know that I want to be helpful to the poor, no matter how many come through. We had to consider what kind of help to give to the poor in the city and what kind of help to give to the poor who were part of our congregation. This means that we’ll be very generous to the poor in our church, but will be strategic and limited in our help to the poor not in our church. Does that make sense?

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