While today is Inauguration Day when America’s political transference of executive power shifts from one administration to the next—and I know we all are praying for a safe and orderly transition—I do believe the day will carry on quite well without my opining over it in this blog. Instead, I would like to recognize readers’ responses to last week’s blog, “What Would You Do?” More specifically, how can the community of Christ, the church in fact, effectively respond to the multi-faceted needs of the homeless in our communities across this land? The backstory (you can read the previous blog) is of a homeless woman released from jail a week ago, and my conversations with the public defender and social worker.
The good news is the woman is safely residing now in a woman’s shelter, while formal processes with the county and at least one charitable organization have been initiated.
But that’s the problem, one reader gently chided. Why do congregations “tend to ‘outsource’ to people [serving the state or private charities] who do not regularly attend church nor have an interest in building a deep, lasting relationship with Christ nor serving others”? The reader goes on to suggest congregations use empty or under-utilized church buildings, offer free services (food pantries, basic legal advice, and medical care) provided by volunteers from the faith community. The point—turn to in-church resources to aid those seeking assistance before depending on outside community organizations.
True, Acts 4 and 5 certainly do corroborate the faith-community-first approach in assisting those in need. But mitigating factors back then included a controversial minority ostracized by the religious and community hierarchy and an absence of any state-provided assistance. You either solicit aid from religious authorities who are seeking to destroy your sect, or you provide it among yourselves, which is the Acts response.
Another reader’s response to homelessness has been to serve “as an active volunteer and board member of two homeless organizations that started with no financial means—only Holy Spirit inspired Christians from several churches asking the same question: what can we do?” God bless this reader and these two start-ups: Interfaith Community PADS (interfaithcommunitypads.in/ifcpwpr48/shelters) and Citizens Concerned for the Homeless (www.sandcastleshelter.org/index.php). Here is an example of Christians defining a critical need and banding together to begin meeting that need.
An intriguing in-sourcing (sort of) suggestion came from another reader. What if we followed the model of the online email “group” Freecycle, with local chapters in Niles and St Joseph. People with items to give away as well as individuals with specific needs to be filled convene or converge at the Freecycle depot. “What if PMC partnered with N2N [Neighbor to Neighbor, our area Adventist churches' community service center] to create some sort of [similar] online ‘clearinghouse’ where the church could present the church [learns of] to the congregation?”
But is it enough to simply provide for physical or shelter needs? Another reader says No. “A person who is battling their addiction, homelessness, or criminal record needs to be taught how to handle those issues.” “Emotional regulation” and learning coping skills are vital. The reader appeals to remember the intangibles people need—“hope, faith, friendships, skills to handle the negative self-talk or outside stressors.”
I wish I could include all the reader responses I’ve received—stories of heartache from individuals who themselves have had to depend on N2N for assistance to a reader who lost a spouse to spiraling addictions and only now is recovering from the pain of that loss.
How can a blog solve such deep needs? Obviously, blogs only raise awareness of needs. One email response ended with, “When you find the answers, Pastor Dwight, let us all know!” Time-out! This isn’t about me finding the solution. As many have indicated, the solution rests with us collectively. What is clear is we all recognize it isn’t enough to parrot Ebenezer Scrooge’s response to the poor, “Aren’t there enough poor houses to provide for their needs?” It isn’t enough to think our tax dollars are responsible for solving social needs.
No, Jesus reminded us in the last story He ever told, “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, My brothers and sisters, you did it to Me” (see Matthew 25:40). If the truth—the Maker of all things loves and wants me—is the storyline of divine love, then it is the storyline He calls each of us to live out in our own little worlds. A few willing hearts and loving souls can band together to explore and begin to meet the growing need of poverty and homelessness. But it will take a village, or at least a congregation, to put feet to any ideas the Spirit will engender.
I like the way Tom McCormick put in his email about the homeless organizations he has helped grow: “Let me know what I can do to help get the answer rolling. As you and I well know, be prepared for anything. Working the Monday night 2 AM to 7 AM shift as a chaperone at the Men’s Overnight Homeless Shelter for many years, I can tell you many lines were changed by one bad decision to take the wrong fork in the road.”
Clearly, the solution we seek lies not so much in a plethora of ideas, but in a hardy band of Christ-followers who are willing to serve time on the front line of this desperate need—out of devotion to Jesus and a love for the people the Maker of all things loves and wants. If you are willing to be in that band, please let me know. The Maker of all things thanks you.
And no wonder, for “the last message of mercy to be given to the world is a revelation of God’s character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons 415).