How Do You Serve the Poor?
By Gary Alloway
Redemption Church is a 2-year old church plant in Bristol, PA, a post-industrial small town just outside Philadelphia. About 2 miles from where we meet for worship, there is a tent encampment where about a dozen homeless folks live. For almost 2 years, we have made weekly visits to the camp and are proud to call those who live there our friends, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ. This is one of our many stories …
How do you serve the poor? Do you bring them food and clothing, so that they might survive another day? Do you attempt to find them housing and jobs, so that they might leave poverty? Do you lobby your local leaders to care for those in need and make systemic changes?
Yes. And more. One of the crippling things about poverty is it turns people into consumers. They receive free meals, free clothing, and housing subsidies. And if they do this long enough, they can become hardened in a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness. But a life based on the gospel is never about just receiving. To be whole, we must both receive and give.
In May, we did a simple service project in our community of Bristol, PA. We helped paint and do maintenance at the local after school program. We had a few volunteers from among our regulars. We had a few volunteers from my home church, a wealthy suburban congregation. And the majority of our volunteers were our homeless friends. And it was a beautiful day.
Our homeless friends, who spend the majority of their days with nothing to do, had a day full of activity. Instead of the shame of being homeless, they had the pride of doing good work. Instead of the dullness that comes from only receiving, they had the joy of giving to others who are in need. Instead of the subtle condescension that comes to them from various charities, they were brothers to us that day and fellow workers for the gospel. When I stopped in the camp a few days later, they were all raving about the day asking, “When is the next one?”
How do you serve the poor? Give them opportunities to give love and let them feel the goodness of God’s creation within themselves.