12 months…12 ministries SERVING the POOR (#6)
BY PETER BIGGS
Each month we will focus on one of these 12 areas of church ministry:
• DISCIPLESHIP. • WORSHIP. • PREACHING. • EVANGELISM. • PASTORAL CARE • SERVING the poor • HEALING & DELIVERANCE. • CHILDRENS Ministry • YOUTH MINISTRY • SENIORS Ministry • MENS & WOMENS Ministries • ADMINISTRATION
A large part of serving the poor in our communities is done in the name of Jesus...
Consider Christian organizations that work in our communities such as the Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission and MCC along with many smaller and vital ministries such as RAN Mission in Chilliwack, Nightshift in Surrey, and The Harvest in North Vancouver (many many more could and should be mentioned).
Although this series focuses on the LOCAL CHURCH, all these ministries exist and function in large measure because of individuals and churches who often wisely see the benefit of their skills and experience.
Honorable mention should also be given to the many who also do CHALLENGING WORK work with the poor and marginalized in the (non faith-based) ‘Community Services’. PB
We are confronted with poverty both in the media and in our streets. Poverty has many faces. In recent years we’ve witnessed devestated refugees escaping war from places like Syria. Many of these were professional middle class families reduced to desperation and utter dependancy on world wide relief agences such as Oxfam, MCC, World Vision, Doctors without Borders and the UNHCR.
All of these organizations are dependant on both Governmants and inviduals to support this unprecedented need.
Serving the poor can start with financial support for these migrants.
According to StatsCan in 2016, of the 3.5 million tax-filers in BC, 689,000 gave nearly $1.4M (average $440 each) in 2016. The average donor’s income was $58,900.
Oversees missionaries, supported by churches are to be found working with these desperate people.
HOUSING – the ‘elephant in the room’
Housing costs and poverty are related. The current outrageous house prices and rent increases are having a profound effect on all; young families, newly qualified professionals and students. One student, stated on CBC after having just gained her Bachelors in Nursing, “I’ve done four years of university. Consequently I have some student debt. We’re just starting our family. On my expected salary we have no hope of ever buying a home in Vancouver, and there is little or no rental stock… what are our options?” Housing costs may well push this young family into the ranks of the working poor.
Homelessness counts are rising. Depression often follows poverty and homelessness and addiction is often a way to seek relief from this cycle.
Food Bank use is one barometer of poverty. Dave Murrey of Abbotsford’s Food Bank says, “All Lower Mainland cities are reporting increase usage, especially seniors.” Many seniors have to survive on CPP, OAS and income supplement, plus (as is quite common) they have some debts? Those on welfare in BC receive $710/month.
Local Christian initiatives…
Pacific Community Church, runs it’s commercial kitchen in collaboration with three other churches to serve suppers to their Cloverdale community three nights a week. In addition they are currently engaging with the city of Surrey to utilize land around their building for 80-100 small affordable housing units.
Currently four United Churches in Metro Vancouver are demolishing their outdated buildings and utilizing their extremely valuable land for community services, affordable rental apartments along with a smaller footprint church centre.
RAN Mission in Chilliwack is currently building a 35 unit affordable appartment building for families at risk. They will feature ‘wrap around services’.
Many newly retired people are discovering a new raison d’être which involves serving the poor.
RAN Mission enjoys significant involvement from churches and others. Teams of 6-10 people utilize it’s kitchen to cook and serve the 120+ ‘guests’ every night from the community.
Teams of people from churches join Nightshift Street Ministries in Surrey and serve those camped out on the infamous ‘Strip’ in Walley.
‘Enabling’ – avoiding it !
Poverty alleviation needs thinking through.
Coined by Christianity Today as ‘The Poverty Fighters Bible,’ Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts has been widely acknowledged as containing crucial perspectives for those who oversee ministries to the poor. It states:
‘Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work
…material poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things: rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in so doing we move people closer to being what God created them to be…
Relief, rehabilitation, or development?
‘Not all Poverty is created equal. A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context, whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.’
‘When Helping Hurts’ : https://goo.gl/rZ3Tvz
Poverty, Addiction and Mental Illness
People dealing with poverty often have complex causes. As with all disorders in life there are also degrees of affliction. Sometimes it’s just a home or a job needed, however often specialized residential help is required (preceeded by detox). Many choose it.
Surrey Urban Mission’s Mike Musgrove comments, “I see people who have been abandoned all their lives – that’s not something most of us have experienced. It is a relationship with Christ that brings such people hope.”
Nightshift’s Mary Ann Connor, who (like Musgrove) also deals with terrible levels of poverty on ‘The Strip’ in Walley, Surrey says, “I go to Matthew 25, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Sadly, despite dire circumstances of homelessness, addiction and grinding squalour, many simply do not choose to accept rehabilition. With such people it can be tempting to say ‘we’ll not feed you until you do choose to get help’.
Each person and case needs discernment, however feeding and helping the poor and providing the basics (as Missions everywhere do unconditionally) should always encourage and provide options for rehabilitation.
This figure is likely higher in socially depressed areas. A child in a lone parent family has a much higher chance of living in poverty. Studies show the minimus wage needs to increase to $15/hour. In Abbotsford/Mission, 25 percent of couple families earned below the living wage of $17/hour in 2014.
In your face… poverty?
Panhandlers present us all with a dilema.
By giving, am I simply ‘enabling’ them? Are they really hungry? Am I being lied to and conned?
Most Lower Mainland cities have agencies (often Christian ministries) that provide the basics (one to two meals a day, free clothing, showers and an emergency shelter bed).
Such agencies have qualified and experienced staff who can assess the ‘enabling question’. All Missions reguarly discourage giving to panhandlers, instead support them helping the individual.
the spiritual gift of mercy
All Christians are called to be merciful, because God has been merciful to us (Matthew 18:33; Ephesians 2:4-6). However, the Holy Spirit gives the gift of mercy to some in the church.
The Greek word for the spiritual gift of mercy is Eleeo. It means to be patient and compassionate toward those who are suffering or afflicted. The concern for physical, as well as spiritual needs of those who are hurting.
Those with this gift have great empathy for others in their trials and sufferings. They are able to come alongside people over extended periods of time and see them through their healing process. They are truly and literally the hands and feet of God to the afflicted.
Those with this gift are able to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). They are sensitive to the feelings and circumstances of others and can quickly discern when someone is not doing well. They are typically good listeners and feel the need to simply be there for others. See Romans 12:8, Matthew 5:7; Luke 10:30-37; James 3:17; Jude 22-23.
(with thanks to spiritualgiftstest.com)