HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 3 of 3) … Toward Some Solutions

To calm fears that a full-blown implementation of this “Helping Without Hurting” model could never address the myriad nuances and unique factors of the special cases we face each day, know that there remains much room for flexibility in precise implementation. There is a time & place for the helper to bestow immediate relief (after a natural disaster or family tragedy, for example), to be more generous in terms of financial help during the ensuing months of recovery, but to encourage a greater sense of personal responsibility during the following years of personal & community development. All three phases of help must take into account community resources and (perhaps) larger factors (like unjust political systems) which complicate accountability.

The Biblical gospel informs all this, as the helper comes to terms with God’s perspective that his need (as the helper) for restored relationships (with God, with self, with other, and with creation) is just as significant as those of the “needy” person he strives to bless. Since this is true, the proper stance is for me to come alongside my new friend so that we might approach the Lord Jesus Christ as beggars together. In no way will I be interested in creating another dependent, even if having a human being depend upon me makes me feel better about myself, for a little while. You may recall one point of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters: that Satan and his demons are always working, to push each person just a bit off center. So which way is he pushing you? Are you the kind of person who is sinfully irresponsible, or are you sinfully independent (in a proud and deceived way)?

Christ Covenant Church is pleased to cosponsor an important conference to highlight these themes, September 23-24. The Tuesday night event is on the local university campus and the Wednesday morning event will be held at a nearby church. Please join us in praying that lasting benefits will come, for the good of 1) social welfare workers; 2) students of social welfare & sociology (future leaders); 3) deacon boards; 4) all charitable ministries. For all of us, we must be interested in serving smarter, blessing our neighbors Biblically. The sponsoring congregations and ministries are footing the bill for this conference as a gift to Lawrence, so that mercy funds can be preserved for investing in the “Helping Without Hurting” resources and into the critical ministries we must pursue.

While sharing many of these stories with a group of local ministers, one of them chimed in with his own. He is about to become a fellow father-in-law with another gentleman, a highly successful businessman and a growing Christian. When meeting for the first time, they were walking to a downtown restaurant and stepped around a homeless man lying down in the sidewalk. The soon-to-be father-in-law said to my pastor-friend: “Fifteen years ago, that was me!” My friend was perplexed, & asked for details. Much was shared about God’s grace in Christ, but I pass along to you the first sentence of the recovery story. In response to the question, “When/how did the positive change begin?” this formerly homeless man who will now be blessing a generation of grandchildren replied: “It started to go better when people stopped helping me.” Now there are many details missing which will likely show that this man has been blessed, all his life, by true helpers. But there was evidently a kind of “help” he was experiencing as a homeless man which was really hurt.

One final illustration, I trust, will highlight the critical need for these concepts, in our Christian ministries and in our civil governments. To my knowledge, many years ago there was one overnight shelter available for those in our community who were homeless ~ the faith-based Salvation Army, located strategically downtown. The leaders of that front-line ministry had one simple “moral” requirement (really, it touched only on the external behavior of the homeless): Basically, you cannot sleep overnight here if you are drunk or high on drugs. In addition, one could not “live” there; after a certain number of nights the client had to move out for a set time. Our city-fathers evidently thought that the simple moral requirement was too pushy, preachy, or judgmental, and that the limitation on number of night-stays was less than generous, so they established a city-shelter alternative with no such limitations. Many individuals who were being helped through the Salvation Army dashed over to “the competition,” and eventually the downtown Salvation Army was told not to house people overnight.

Consider: Which ministry actually had the higher regard for its clients, honoring them as human beings who must grow to understand and experience some of the natural consequences for their choices? Which ministry tried to direct needy people to the one Person with the power and authority to keep helping dependents (including ourselves)? Perhaps the deep revival we are seeking here will produce transformative changes in the people-helping operations here. May it be.