It started with Bob.
I first "met" him in a parking lot when the weather was dancing between warm one day and cold the next. He sat in his wheelchair holding a sign stating his need for help followed by the kicker "God bless."
Often advised against handing out money, I decided to help by purchasing food in the store which brought me to that parking lot in the first place. With my assortment in hand, I drove over to Bob (although we hadn't met formally yet), got out of the car and told him I had a few things for him. I asked him his name, exchanged benign pleasantries and went about my day, glad to have "helped" someone.
I saw him several times after that and would often buy something for him from the store, each time bringing him my purchases, giving a quick smile and hurrying about my day, glad to be done with this mortifying "good deed" of the day. I'd rather give without anyone knowing, least of all the intended recipient. Maybe it's because this felt more like bringing treats to a dog, rather than authentically loving a complete stranger as I love myself.
Anyway... I soon began to wonder if he might like to be asked what kind of food was his favorite. Since there is a pizza place in the same plaza as the food store, I decided to ask him, expecting he would be pleased with an inquiry about his personal food preferences.
Instead, I received a lashing about his need for money not food because someone had ripped him off and all he wanted to do was buy his sons something electronic for Christmas. (Please do not judge him for this...I learned at the poverty seminar this past Saturday, that these types of diversions provide a means of temporary escape for people dealing with tough circumstances daily. Kind of like those week long vacations and cruises people with money enjoy taking now and then.)
Crushed, I started back to my car. Contrite, he called me back, apologized and gave me an order for the pizza he'd like.
For a long time after that, I told God I just couldn't give to this guy anymore. I knew it wasn't really helping him with the things he really needed help with. And I felt helpless for not knowing how to help him. Interestingly, I never saw him in the parking lot after that - though I did see him in another part of town, but as usual, I was driving and was "too busy" to stop. Typical.
Ever since then I've been praying for God to show me how to make a lasting difference in the life of the poor. Because donating money, clothes, food, whatever stuff I no longer need
or am just plain bored with, it doesn't change a thing. Yes, it helps.
For a moment.
But it doesn't really change the situation that brought a person to
poverty in the first place. Because I'm assuming that most people in
poverty did not choose it as a way of life. If you know different, please tell me.
However, I believe Jesus did. After all He chose to be born into poverty. Got right down in the dirt with us. But I
don't get the sense it bothered Him. After all He was the one who told
us not to worry about things like what we would eat or wear.
And I will gladly give the clothes, food, money, stuff to people who
chose to live by faith, like Jesus, trusting God will bring them what
they need when they need it.
But for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the impoverished, giving stuff just isn't enough.
I recently finished The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne Don't read it unless you're ready to take off those rose-colored glasses of who the church is now and see who she is meant to be. The Way brought to life. Here. Now. A living way to help the poor among us.
And the poverty seminar clarified why I've had this holy dissatisfaction with handout giving lately. It's because it lacks the one thing people in poverty value - relationships. And relationships are where authentic living and transformation begin to bloom.
It started with Bob, it continues with the mission trip and only God knows where He will take me from there. But I trust it will be to the deeper places of His heart and the deeper places where He hurts for His children and so if it's down in the dirt with the poor than there's no better place I could be, because He got there first.