Two of the Bible passages I reflected on today have a direct bearing on my work with the homeless. These were both based on sayings of Jesus: “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11) and “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). I get from the first text that the issues I am dealing with have been and always will be with us and that it is quite in order to have a break. I get from the second text that different people approach dealing with the poor (e.g. the homeless) in different ways and it is not my place to criticize or place obstacles in the way of those who are trying to help.
Part of this morning’s digestion of what is going on in the world is checking out what has been written on my Facebook page and some e-mails, and what is being reported in the TV news. Unsurprisingly, there were a number of homeless related stories as well as things going on in every corner of the planet where the poor are suffering and injustice done that was not reported. On the homeless front, as well as different goings on to do with helping the homeless, there was bickering, not just by those who aren’t all that sympathetic to the plight of the homeless but also by those who are but don’t like what another group does. One story, to do with possible injustice, concerns a baby in my town that has been put up for adoption against the baby’s family’s wishes. My dilemma is trying to unravel where truth and justice lie in this matter, realizing there is little I can do despite wanting a good outcome. Another “not being in a position to do much” story concerns long delays for those crossing the Channel, caused largely because of sanctuary seekers, no doubt desperate, trying to enter the country illegally. There are many ways we may want to make a difference but how, what, when?
If ever there is a case of the poor always being with us, these stories illustrate this to be the case, and these are only the tip of the iceberg. The question facing me and no doubt something many others have to face is what to do about it. In recent months, there has been in my town a big increase (or so it appears) of people wanting to help the homeless. Many do so with evangelical zeal and sometimes scornful that the unmet need is as big as it is and agencies we might expect to help aren’t doing so. I have come to a view that none of our motives are entirely pure and because such is often the case it sometimes gives rise to unsavory exchanges, and it has caused well meaning people to burn out prematurely, be misunderstood and become out of sync with others, whereas what is needed is to encourage them.
This is not the time to give examples because it is not appropriate to do so in a public setting, but it is the time to lay out principles (most of which I have already referred to in my writings) of how to go about serving the poor, e.g. the homeless, who are always with us and doing so when others not in our group are doing the same.
- Remember we are in a marathon and not a sprint – so learn to pace yourself.
- Realise you rarely have the full picture, and people we help don’t generally reveal all, otherwise you would respond differently.
- Don’t criticize what others do and you don’t and, if you can, then encourage others who want to help to be able to do so.
- Don’t take umbrage when others criticize or try to undermine you and what you do, as surely they will – best not to react even.
- Recognise there are things you can do to help and things you can’t, so focus on the former, realising there will always be gaps.
- It is not about you but it is about the people you are trying to help.
- Be accountable to others and if at all possible work with others.
- Don’t neglect your own personal well being or that of your family.
- Don’t use your do gooding aspirations as an excuse to neglect the other stuff you should be doing or to vent your own hang ups.
- There is room for all and sundry to play a part when it comes to serving the poor – so leave room for them.
- Small random acts of kindness with no expectation of something being given back to us in return is something we can all do.
- There are no greater calls on our lives than those of loving God and loving our neighbor.
Returning to the title and what remains a glaring need in the community, let us seize the many opportunities, which are all too evident if only you looked around you, to make a difference. Homelessness is indeed always with us, but then that is no excuse for inactivity but rather it is an opportunity for proactivity.