The following is a guest post by Kevin Ruffcorn.
The stoplight turns red. You brake to a stop. There in the median, next to your window is a shabbily dressed man. He has stringy hair and a week’s growth of beard. The cardboard sign that he’s holding reads, “Need help. Hungry, Homeless Veteran. God bless.” What do you do?
Guilt or Regret
You look away and drive off as soon as the light changes. Suddenly you are filled with a sense of guilt. The man might have been one of those people Jesus talked about when he said, “As much as you do it unto one of the least of these you do it to me” (Matthew 25). If so, you just missed an opportunity to help Jesus.
Or, You roll down your window and give him a few bucks. You feel good, but that feeling evaporates when you drive off. It’s replaced by regret. The man might have used you. It’s possible he took your money, climbed into his BMW and drove to his house in a gated community. He might also use your money to purchase booze or drugs.
No Help at All
The money that you give may not be helpful. Money is only a short term solution. Your gift doesn’t assist the man in changing his situation.
Your gift may be counterproductive. It may feed his addiction or prevent him from facing important issues in his life, which keep him on the streets.
Thankfully, there are better ways to help the man and others like him.
Support Your Congregation’s Ministries
One way you can effectively help the poor is through your congregation. Most congregations are involved in some social ministries such as food banks, homeless shelters and spousal abuse centers. Check out these ministries. They have been examined by the congregation or denomination and deemed to be effective in meeting a specific need. You also know that they are good stewards of the money given to them. Prayerfully consider which ministry you want to support and then act. (Don’t take away from your financial support to your own congregation, though.)
Don’t allow your response to the poor to be only financial. Donate you time and talents to the ministry. Volunteer to work at a food bank, serve at a soup kitchen or help build a house. Getting involved allows you to meet the people in need. You discover that there’s not much difference between you and them. You also begin to understand some of the issues with which they are confronted. Spending time in service together can make for an interesting date with your spouse or significant other. Bring you children along with you and make it a family night.
Check It Out
Other ministries outside of your congregation may appeal to you. Before you get involved, check the ministry out. Unfortunately, there are many ministries that have good ad campaigns but few of the funds they collect actually get to those in need. Read the evaluations on websites such as The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability http://www.ecfa.org/ or Charity Navigator http://www.charitynavigator.org. If the service organization in which you are interested isn’t listed, you can ask the charity for their past three years of annual reports or financial statements. A good rule of thumb is that the ministry should not use more than 20% of the donations for “administrative expenses.”
In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty. We have been losing the war ever since. According to Bread for the World www.bread.org, “Of all the advanced economies, the United States has the highest percentage of families that don’t have enough food. That means that one out of five children in America faces the risk of hunger.” The causes of poverty and hunger are not all personal. They are systemic to our society. If you see a need become informed. Study its causes and determine what needs to be done. Write your elected representatives and advocate for change. Join groups that seek to meet the need and find solutions for it.
Plus 1 – Follow Directions
Throughout scripture the message is repeated that you are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). There are abundant opportunities to share your blessings. Being sensitive to the Holy Spirit enables you to both recognize and respond to these opportunities. The Spirit might lead you to give a couple of dollars to that hungry veteran. You might be alerted by the Spirit to a need of a friend, neighbor or co-worker that you have the gifts to meet. Loving and helping another is not always planned; sometimes it’s spontaneous. There is no greater joy, though, than reaching out, grabbing a hand and helping someone up who has fallen.
Kevin Ruffcorn has been an ordained Lutheran pastor (ELCA) for over thirty-five years. He is currently pastor of Desert Streams Lutheran Church in Surprise, Arizona. He is the author of five Christian books, numerous magazine articles and several devotional series. Kevin’s blog site is www.asanefaith.com.