This morning our church held it's annual volunteer training conference. The girls and I attended a session called, "Ministering to Those in Poverty" facilitated by a missionary couple. This couple serves not across an international border, but across the interstate running through Pleasant Suburb. Their ministry on the east side of our city has given them valuable perspective on social ministry. Their calling is to social ministry, but their goals are not to put resources into the hands of those living in need. After a brief introduction, Jimmie King jumped in with a seemingly simple question. He asked, "What do you do if a needy or homeless person approaches and asks for money?"
Uhhhh. The room was quiet, and I thought that when this has happened to us... I have not given. Guilt rose up at the memory of refusal. Except that Jimmie was not suggesting that handouts were helpful. Someone suggested offering to bring some sort of food to the asker. There was a general murmur of concern regarding the possibility that cash could be quickly translated into drugs or alcohol, and one man piped up that giving to one person might result in non-stop asking if one were regularly serving the population where the initial gift was given. Of less concern than the possible mind-altering chemical possibilities to Jimmie was the idea of being unable to minister due to a constant stream of outstretched palms looking for hand-outs.
He made a distinction today that rang with truth. Do not simply give resources to those in need. He defined, "betterment" as giving from one's own stores to meet another's need. This giving improves the recipient's situation. It is appropriate in an emergency situation. Betterment applied on an ongoing day-to-day basis can become part of a crippling cycle that fails to value the recipient's abilities and gifts. For ministy to those living in poverty, "development" is a far more valuable gift because it describes giving that helps the recipient to meet their own need. Very much the model of teaching a man to fish so he has food his whole life rather than just giving him a fish for a single meal, this is not a new concept. It was one that struck me in a whole new way, though.
Because it echoes the words of our sweet friends Alex and Laura Waits who have just completed their first week of language school in La Ceiba, Honduras. We are less than 100 days from our much-anticipated reunion with their family at Thanksgiving. They, like Jimmie and his wife, have big dreams of caring for people in need. That care is with an eye toward a future unimaginable to some of those to whom these families minister. Both missionary families hope to reach children caught in generational cycles of poverty, and the dream of teaching children that they can grow a garden to provide an ongoing source of fresh vegetables for food is not terribly different from that of teaching and tutoring to help children and adults attain literacy, obtain a G.E.D., or gain job skills. If you are a praying person, take a moment to lift up the Kings and the Waits and their ministries a world apart.