As we continue to discuss ways to help those outside the doors of our church, we always want to make sure we’re checking our own hearts too. For both those we help and ourselves, the reality is that Scripture teaches that our hearts are all desperately wicked, and we need the truth of the Gospel informing our hearts and minds. (Jeremiah 17:9)
Here’s one way we can check our hearts, especially when working with the poor.
Giving, Taking, & Taking While We’re Giving
Have you ever served at a soup kitchen or clothing closet? How did you feel as you handed out free food or free clothes? Not just the surface-level warm feelings, but deep down? As you watched darting glances, slow foot shuffles, and low spirits, did you feel like you were truly giving hope, empowerment, wisdom, grace… or did you wonder if you were taking something from the materially poor you were there to serve?
In the materially poor, there is the constant feeling of being second-class citizens, victims, worthless, insecure, and hopeless.
But within us who seek to serve, many times there is the sense that we have all the answers and that we are there to bring solutions and resources to meet the needs.
White Man with the Business Plan
I was talking with one of my materially poor friends in South Dallas one day, and she chuckled as she described some well-intentioned business folks’ involvement there as the “white man with the business plan”! In her own prophetic way, she was describing the attitude which many of us have had as we seek to serve and help. If we’re not wise in how we help, we can come across as judgmental, impatient, and solely resource-driven.
Oftentimes a “one-way give” – from large-scale efforts to transform a community to placing some pizza and pudding on a tray – can undermine the love and concern we’re professing. And yet people still need basic resources – like food, clothing, and shelter. So when we are called on to provide relief (rather than development),we must think about ways in which to celebrate and reflect the inherent dignity, value, and worth of every human being that we seek to serve.
Why Would We Ask the Poor for Money?
One example of this principle at work was in thinking about how we would engage with people at our urgent care medical clinic – QuestCare Clinic.
We spent many hours prayerfully considering whether to charge for the medical services we would provide. Would we impose a sliding scale system based on ability-to-pay? Would we require Medicaid? Would we accept “whatever you choose to pay”?
Ultimately we settled on a “suggested donation” model (asking for $10) that we felt would not pose a barrier to entry for services but would also allow us to
- Give folks a stake in their own care
- Offer a true “value exchange” – both parties giving something of value to the other
This kind of system acknowledges the dignity of those we are seeking to reach and increases their own sense of participation in their care. It has been interesting to see how people have responded: Some paying more than the suggested donation, as they have the means, to ensure that others get the care they need – or to make up for times when they might not have anything to contribute.
Reflecting the Dignity
This is why we partner with ministries that intentionally strive to reflect the dignity of each person: so even when we are handing out food or clothes, it’s done in wise ways… and usually in the context of relationship, as we’ve discussed before. Even when you and I individually address the “man on the corner” or someone else who needs help, we can keep in mind that our efforts should reflect their dignity as God’s creation even more than they reflect the person’s present lack of material needs.
As we work alongside other believers to alleviate material poverty and other issues, we need to recognize that both those we serve and those serving are broken, in need of their Savior, and in need of truth AND grace, compassion AND justice. So we need to hold the mirror of Scripture up to our hearts and motives, making sure we are aligned with Scripture as we seek to serve others. (James 1:23)