Quest to End Poverty in America Part 5

 Going to the Poor

He came to where he was (Luke 10:33)

 In order to help the hurting and the wounded we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones and go to them.  Remember that they are hurting and wounded they will not come to you.  In nature we often see wounded animals isolate themselves and hide.  They will not be coming to your church.  It is more likely that they will close up their house, pull the shades tight and will not be heard from.  We must get out into the poor neighborhoods and reach out to them.  Because they are hurting they will not trust you.  Do not be offended.  They are only being protective. 

   I love history and I particularly have been fascinated with the history of World War II and have read much about the soldiers, sailors, politicians and so many others impacted by the war.  However, I must confess that much of what is described in pictures, maps and words made little sense to me until I went to Europe and saw the cities, the battlefields and the homes represented in those stories.  It made much more sense when I put my own eyes on the places of history.  My understanding grew substantially.   The same is true when we strive to impact poverty.  We must go to them and see for ourselves what is really happening.    

    I once heard a story of a church that every year would organize and plan a trip to some remote element of the world to serve the poor.  These trips required weekly prayer and information meeting, great expense and training.  When the months of preparation were complete, with bags packed the group of short term missionaries would take church vans to the airport.  On the way they would be careful to avoid, that neighborhood.  You know that one neighborhood that every city has where there is more crime, more poverty and more need.  The church faithful would take a wide route and make it to the airport so that they could change the world for Jesus.  While on the trip they would see Jesus in action.   Lives would be changed on the foreign mission field and within the team.  Jesus would be glorified.  When they returned they would again avoid “that neighborhood” as they returned home.  A week or two later they would be giving testimonies of what they experienced so far away and encouraged others to do the same.

    Now I wish to make clear that I have no issues with short term mission’s trips.  I think that they can be very helpful for encouraging the faithful to support missionaries who are serving abroad.  But my thoughts are with that “neighborhood” the one that you avoid.   If you believe that a one week trip can impact lives and change the world for Jesus; how much more could Jesus use a dedicated man or woman of God who is willing to reach out into the inner cities of our nation?  

    When you go there, and it might be a rough neighborhood or a local homeless shelter, you will learn that the men, women and children  there are people not so different than you or me.  These are men and women who once had hopes and dreams but had them crushed or delayed.  You will meet moms who deeply love their children and have dreams for them doing better.  They will complain about the cost of milk, the latest sports blunder and look forward to the next blockbuster film.

    Additionally, they live on the edge and as a result have developed some incredible survival skills.  Over the years of working with them I have become amazed at their ability to get a high tech cell phone, keep food on the table and clothes on their body with no income to speak of.   They will be able to tell you all of the free things that are out there in the world that can be yours if you just ask.  They are more than willing to tell you about programs in your community that they like, don’t like or have heard things about.  Very few will hold back on their opinions.

The ingenuity of those in poverty is outstanding.  On any given day they can take ordinary objects and turn them into tools.  With a phone call they can find someone to help them through a short crisis.  Again and again they will make calls and be rejected; yet keep going on.  There is a fire within them that simply needs to be kindled.

    Many will say that education is the key to getting these men and women out of poverty.  However, among the poor you will find people with no diploma, high school diplomas, bachelor degrees and all manner of masters and doctorate degrees.   You would not know this unless you sat down and got to know them.  Those that hold that education can save them are like an eye doctor who after the exam simply hands his glasses over to the patient without testing or even conversation.  The odds of those glasses being the exact right prescription is long; yet these educators are making that call without taking time to get to know those who are living in poverty.  They believe that somehow a diploma will make a difference.  As you get to know those in poverty you do learn that education is a key, but not in the school and higher education form.  Instead those in poverty must be educated to know that they are valuable to society when they contribute.  They must be taught a love of learning and a passion for life.

    Education is important and multiple studies show the earning power that a degree can get people.  But if someone feels that they do not have value then an education is not going to lift them out of poverty.  They will not even seek an education.  School is full of negative memories of failures and boredom.  Help them find the passion within them and they will learn and grow and be set free.

    Studies continually show the lack of reading that takes place outside of school.  Why is that?  Men and women don’t have a passion for learning.  We live in an information society.  Our world moves fast and if you don’t take time to learn you will fall behind very quickly.  What I often tell people is take time to discover what your passions are and dive into books on that topic.  Take time to watch videos on that topic and attend seminars.  With a little bit of effort you will quickly become an expert on that topic.  I read once that if you read more than five books on any topic you will know more on that topic than 90% of the world.  You can only help those in poverty discover a passion for learning if you get to know their passions.

     All people have strengths and limitations.  For too long we have allowed people in our society to get away with the excuses that their limitations create for them.  I have met men and women who have incredible disabilities where they are missing limbs.  Yet these men and women work for a living.  Others have mental disabilities and though it is unlikely that they will be doctors or lawyers they can use their strengths to overcome their disabilities.   Yet, social workers will often focus on the weaknesses that will get them the most hand out.  There is a common thought that if you focus on a weakness the weakness grows stronger.  If you focus on the strength the strength will grow stronger.  We must help the poor learn what their strengths are and how to use them to succeed in our world.  Again you can only do this if you take time to get to know these men and women.

   Currently in society there is a fascination with death.  Zombies, skulls and other symbols of death permeate the clothing and decorations of the poor.  Where does this fascination come from?  There are many culprits.  The media for one has developed a blood lust in movies and television.  At any given moment you are permitted to view a killing, a rape or some other horrendous scene.  For many in poverty television and movies is the great escape.  They cannot afford to go see theater or listen to symphonies.  Television gives them a break from the pain of reality.  A second culprit is abortion providers.  In most major cities you will find the abortion provider focusing on serving those in poverty.  They love to take the lives of these babies and call it choice.  Because these services are directed to those in poverty they continue to develop a taste for death that haunts them from the cradle to the grave.  All life is special so let us reach out to these men and women and show them the value in life and what roles they can play in it.  We can only show them the joy of life by spending time with them.

     The point of this section is that we must go to them.  That includes politicians who want to vote for or against spending plans and are working on bills that will impact those in poverty.   The politician who votes either way without going to the people they believe they are impacting should be voted out of office and replaced with someone who is truly educated on the plight of the poor.  This includes the well meaning social worker and the local church pastor.  Go to the people, learn from them.  The truth is that these men and women are the real experts on poverty, because they live with it every day.

Seeing the Poor

He saw the man (Luke 10:33)

   I am sure that you have seen them, the guys in scruffy clothes with a poorly constructed cardboard sign offering to work for food.   Many times I wonder if they really would work for a sandwich.  It is easy to judge these folks and assume that they are lazy, drug addicts or con artists.  It is also easy to assume that they represent the homeless and the poor of America.  But with all of that going on in your head, do you really see them.  Can you look past the judgments and look into their eyes and see the human being that is standing there?  For most of us we look away, we don’t want to see the hurt.  Maybe it is because we realize that we are all one or two choices away from being there ourselves.  Maybe it is because we don’t want them to ask us for anything. 

   We long to be invisible and if invisible not responsible for the hurting in our community.  But in order to ignore them we must assume that they are less than us, less than human.  Now I am certain that if I were to ask you if you felt that way about those in poverty that you would deny that accusation.  I am not trying to be difficult here.  But do you not look away?  Do you silently hope that they don’t see you?   You may even silently thank God that you are not in their shoes.  You are not evil; but I would say that you are unfortunately far too normal.  To see the man is to become more than the priest or the Levite. 

    Regardless of the reason that the man or woman is there we must look at them as human.  They are a human that is in need of proof that he or she has value and is important. Too often the homeless are marginalized to such an extent that they feel that they are not even human.  If they get to this point of feeling like an animal the thought becomes, “Why not act like an animal?”  It is amazing that when a person is recognized as a person that they are much more likely to act like a human. 

    Additionally, we need to recognize that these men and women do not represent all of those that are in poverty.  They are a minority of those in poverty.  Many more are filling our shelters, couch surfing or living in places not meant for habitation.  Many of these are struggling and hoping for more from life.  But how can you know that if you don’t stop and see these men and women.   Look into their eyes and see the hope that you will see them.  All humans long to be known and accepted. 

     Don’t get me wrong we don’t have to accept the excuses or any immorality.  What I am calling us to do is to accept that this is a human that is in need of a kind word, polite affection and at the least a smile.  Later we will address the issues of immorality, but realize the immorality is in full bloom in all levels of society.

    What does it look like to see those in poverty?  It basically begins with not looking away.  Now that you have gone to them, go learn about them.   Hear their stories without judging truth and lies.  As relationships build you can address discrepancies in their stories.   Simply listen to their upbringing, pay attention to their language.  The words they choose can give you a glimpse of life as they know it. 

    Recognize that we feel uncomfortable with things that are suddenly different or sound out of the ordinary.  These men and women are the same as you and me.  Maybe to you getting up, going to work, paying bills and sometimes learning to keep your mouth shut is normal.  To them your “normal” may feel freaky or weird. 

    Seeing the poor is also different from feeling sorry for them.  Many in our government will fall prey to this tactic.  Programs our developed and in this nation our government has decided that these men and women cannot run their own lives so they have taken over as absentee parents.  They control and manipulate these men and women and make them slaves to a system that is cruel and poverty building.

    When we look at the poor we will see a strong and proud people looking to be set free.  But to get free they will need to learn new skills and be given the encouragement that they can achieve their dreams.  But to get to their dreams they will need to drop away from the feed table of the master.

NOTE:  Some that are living in poverty have become so embarrassed by their situation that they will do what they can to look like monsters.  This is so that you will definitely look away.  The more someone disfigures themselves the more that we should strive to honestly see them.

He had Compassion

He had compassion (Luke 10:33)

     For much of our nation’s history compassion was seen as a virtue.  Maybe we have been fatigued from all of the world’s needs.  It used to be you might have heard about hunger in Africa.  Eventually these men and women and children got faces through television.  But still these were presented in infomercials and could easily be avoided or turned off when we had enough.  Today we are bombarded with needs all over the world.  It is nearly impossible to avoid the stories of disasters and suffering in the world.  Add to that, the fact that some stories are exaggerated or even made up and it is easy to see how many have become overwhelmed. 

     Some of these are crises; others have been painful for these people for years.  With all of these desperate faces our there around us, what are we to do?  My heart breaks for people in remote parts of the planet.  Shouldn’t we do something?  What can we do?  The needs are too great.  So we do nothing.  The common man is paralyzed by the overwhelming needs and turns on the heater a little warmer, looks out at the snow outside and praises God that he is warm.

    But shouldn’t the man or woman of God do something.  Sure some will send money.  This is needed and many non-government organizations deeply appreciate the help.  Most of these agencies cannot function without your financial help.  Unfortunately the money is more like a compassion stoplight.  We hear about the needs and we send money to ease our consciences.  It stops us for just a moment, a distraction in otherwise comfortable lives.  Eventually the light turns green and we go about our everyday lives.  We are no different.

    Even though I consider myself a compassionate person, I find it difficult to find compassion for hundreds or thousands.  But I do find it easy to find compassion for John, Mike or Sue.   I can ignore the damage from a storm unless I know someone that is living in the path of that storm.  I can feel sorry for those affected; but to experience honest compassion I must know the victims.

    Compassion though requires a change.  We have gone to the people, we have seen the need and now compassion demands that we do something.  This is different than feeling sorry for the poor or homeless.  They do not need our pity.  They need our compassion.  We reach out to them and recognize these men and women as human beings with innate qualities that the world is losing out on.  We seek to compassionately show them their value and call that value out of them.  We love them where they are at, but we also love them too much to let them stay stuck where they are living.

   This compassion shows itself in terms of respect and politeness.  We do not fake this belief in these men and women.  We really believe that inside of the dirty coat, beyond the outward appearance is a human being that is struggling to come out and change the world.  I believe that cures for the world’s worse diseases and problems are sitting in the mind of a homeless man or woman that has been rejected by society.  I believe that we, the people, are losing out because society has rejected these men and women.  Compassion demands that we politely lead them to the truth. 

“We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.”
-George Macdonald

    The truth is that there is incredible value in every human soul.  At one time we understood this.  Ancient ship manifests counted the number of people on board in terms of souls.  A soul is of great value.  Compassion means that we must remind people of this great value.

    Now this is the difficult part.  In the story that Jesus shared, we know next to nothing about the man that was robbed and left for dead.  The only thing that Jesus gives us is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Maybe this guy was a murderer running away to Jericho.  Maybe at home the guy beats his wife and views pornography consistently.  Just maybe if we knew who this guy was we would secretly be happy that this man got what he deserved?  What if the man was Muslim, or a devil worshiper or a homosexual?  Should the Samaritan stop and help?  Would we?  Jesus tells us nothing about the man except that he had a need.  That is all that matters.  Christian love demands action.  Faith requires action. 

  He went to Him

He went to him (Luke 10:34)

  It is actually pretty easy to feel sorry for some people.  You see the wounds, hear the agony and can sense the desperation.  When you see a homeless person at the stop light you might feel the compassion.  But how about interacting with the poor and the homeless? 

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds James 2:16-18 

     Once, in the neighborhood where I lived, medics responded to a woman who showed all of the signs of a drug overdose.  To back up this hypothesis there was drug paraphernalia all around the room where the woman was laying.  From a distance what should be done for her was obvious to the medics.  That was until they got up close and examined her.  That is when they discovered that she had been shot.

     From a distance many lawmakers and social workers will make decisions that sound wise and helpful for the poor.   There are many ideas on how to best help the homeless.  But if you don’t take time to study the issues and more importantly to look at the long term impact of the laws and programs that are being supported you could be making the problem worse.

    The need to look long term is a failure in our nation.  Bills are passed with the idea of being reelected in just a few years.  What if bills were passed with the future in mind?  One example from the state of Washington is a housing program that I read about online.  The idea was that instead of paying rent for a season; the program paid the same amount into the mortgage of a house for these men and women.  The funding was decreased over time similar to a standard housing program but when the family took up payments at the end they were moving toward ownership.  The beauty of the program was that the next generation could eventually move into the paid off house.  Again long term solutions.  The programs offered over the past several years are more of a band aid to the problems than a real cure.

    The point is that we must up close and personal with the issues and the difficulties of living in poverty.  Try to see the world through their eyes.  One way to pull this off is to try to live one week on what you get from a food bank or one month on what you get in food stamps.  Try warming your home on a poverty level budget or try to simply live your life for a week without a car. 

   Going to them is doing whatever it takes to understand their world from a lens of poverty.  We must quit looking at these problems from the lens of middle class or the wealth class.

  He bandaged his wounds (Luke 10:34)

     In this generation simply calling 911 makes it is easy to pass the work onto other people and walk away feeling as if we have done our part. Many will like a cause on social media and wax eloquent on the evils of our world without ever being involved.  The Samaritan in the story was involved.  It would have been unlikely that he had a Red Cross approved first aid kit on his donkey saddle.  No this man ripped his own clothing in his attempt to offer care to the man beat up and left for dead.  It cost him something.  In modern terms this would be giving up a coffee twice a week so that you can donate ten dollars to help those experiencing hunger, homelessness and hopelessness.  I know that it would hurt you do so.  If all the Samaritan did was to bandage the wounds, maybe I would say that you sacrificed enough.  But the lesson of the Samaritan includes going into his stock pile of wine and oil and using them for the man. He gave him what he needed.  He cared for the real needs because earlier he had stopped and really looked at the man.  As he looked at him he would have looked for evidence of life, he would have sought out what was actually wrong.  Maybe the person in poverty needs someone to believe in them.  Possibly they need someone to give them a ride to a job interview.  Often times what those in poverty needs is a friend who can mentor and coach them forward.  We often become like the people that we hang out with, who will they become if they hang out with you?

    Does a man need food when he is flying the sign with a cigarette in his hand?  He likely does, but he is unwilling to sacrifice himself.  Your bandages will be wasted on him.  The Samaritan only bandaged his real wounds.    This gets tricky because for many in poverty they like to demand their rights.  They fail to understand that you also have the right not to help them, unless they also are willing to be a part of the solution.

  • He brought him to an inn (Luke 10:34)

The Samaritan put him on his own donkey and took him to the inn.  There does not seem to be a moment where the Samaritan asks himself, “Should I be doing this?  I just had my donkey detailed and he might throw up on the upholstery.”  There seems to be little concern for the obvious issues that will possibly present themselves.  He is totally focused on helping this man and making sure that he will get every chance of survival.  There is no guarantee that the man will even make it to the inn.  If he dies did the Samaritan waste his time and resources?  Some would say yes, but Jesus is telling us no.  We must do the best we can with what we have.

    While it is critical that love and care for folks must start with us, it cannot stop there.  We must introduce them to experts that can help them with the things that have caused them to experience the crisis.  In this age of specialization it is unlikely that any one person or agency will be able to offer all of the help that this person will need.  They may need mental health help, spiritual development help, physical health help and much more.  This person may very well need help with an addiction, overcome legal issues and may have some family issues that will need help.  This is why it is imperative for agencies, churches, government and businesses to work together.  Every echelon of society can play a part in the healing of this person.  In essence the inn is a central place that can bring all of these Good Samaritan inn keepers together as needed. 

     Even beyond these specialists we must realize that we are all in this together.  If we really want lower taxes, lower crime rates, better customer service and in short a better community we must sit down together as a community.  This will not be easy, as many will come with their own agendas.  I have an agenda and everyone else in the room will come with theirs.  The key though is that we define what we want to accomplish and listen to one another.  Results will come quickly when we all put our hands to the plow together.

Application Questions

  • What are some other versions of the” guy beat up alongside the road” that you can think of?
  • What does real help look like?  (Do to, do for, do with?)
  • What are the barriers within your community that may prevent agencies, businesses or churches from working together?
  • What are the most common versions of the “man beat up alongside the road” look like in your community?