Once we realize God leaves no room for confusion on just how important justice, mercy, and caring for the poor are, we become responsible. We can no longer claim ignorance or inexperience. We have to respond. We choose to turn a blind eye or we muster some imperfect courage to move toward it all, but one way or another, we respond.
Maybe this is all new for you. If so, start here. If there's something stirring in you to know more, to do more, or to just keep trying to figure it all out, these resources are for you!
Things to Watch
Stories Still Breathing - These collections of short films will absolutely alter your perspective and understanding of those living on the streets. You will never be the same. Be sure to watch the Dignum Memoria and SSB: The Series collections.
Tim Keller: Generous Justice - If you are like me, and somehow missed the undeniable theme of justice and caring for the poor in Scripture most of your life, please take time to watch Tim Keller explain God's heart for justice and what it means for us.
TED Talk - Gary Haugen: The Hidden Reason for Poverty the World Needs to Address Now - Gary Haugen is a civil rights lawyer and founder of International Justice Mission. Gary and IJM are leading the fight of the global epidemic of violence and injustice against the poor. There are more people living in slavery today than ever before in history. To fully understand the urgency of the fight for justice and the needs of the poor, we need to know what is going on globally.
Tent City, U.S.A. - An impactful documentary of Nashville's former Tent City. This documentary impacted me so deeply by giving poverty and homelessness a name and a story, I had my staff watch it during our annual staff retreat two years ago.
Things to Read
Toxic Charity - A challenging read on our motivations for serving the poor, and the actual impact of our "help."
A Framework for Understanding Poverty - Ruby Payne's work has transformed how educators serve children coming from poverty, but her work isn't just valuable in the classroom. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to really serve the poor well.
The Justice Primer - This 8-week study walks through the essentials of engaging justice and is a fantastic balance of theology and practical application. I. Love. This. Unfortunately, as of the publishing of this post, it is out of print. But it is worth checking on as I believe it will be available again. It was largely based on Brandon Hatmaker's book, Barefoot Church, which you will find at the same link.
I felt like I jumped five feet as he knocked on my window. I hate to admit it, but my face was buried in my phone as I wrapped up a few emails before heading back to the office, so I didn’t even see him approach. His disheveled hair and the four duffle bags draped across his body told a story all on their own, and then I saw his wife standing on the sidewalk several feet behind him. She had her purse in one hand and a very used styrofoam cup in the other, trying so hard to appear casual - to look like she belonged - like she wasn’t completely lost and embarrassed. Words poured out of his mouth - disjointed thoughts and bits of information made the story hard to follow at first, but before long two things became clear: 1) one way or another, their plans for employment and a fresh start fell through, and 2) home was a long way away and they had no clue how to get back there. I don’t know if it was nerves or something else that made him talk so fast, but he finally took a breath, looked me in the eyes, let out a heavy sigh and simply said, “Ma’am, we are hungry.”
“Do you like enchiladas?” were the first words out of my mouth as I opened the car door and walked them toward the restaurant I’d left minutes before.
As we waited in line, his wife did her very best to make small talk, but she was tired. Not just physically tired. The kind of tired that settles into your soul, making everything feel heavy and impossible. I ordered two enchilada plates and two drinks at the counter, and as discretely as I could, I placed the change in the gentleman’s hands. He’d mentioned needing to get to a bus stop about 20 minutes away, and those few dollars were just enough for two tickets on our community’s transit bus. His wife hugged me so tight. Tears caught her throat and I could barely hear her whisper, “Thank you. It’s really hard being in a place where you don’t know anybody.”
Yes. Yes it is.
Focusing on meetings and budget reports felt impossible the rest of the afternoon. I just kept wondering who these people really were. What lead them to this broken place? What were their loves? Their dreams? When was the last time they felt peace? They were survivors for sure. They were pressing on because they had no other choice, and thankfully, they had each other.
They’d been everywhere they didn’t want to be, and beyond a meal or a bus ticket, they just wanted to get back home. Don’t we all? Isn’t the theme of scripture our tendency to wander and God’s persistence to find us, however lost we may be, and to bring us home?
Question: After reading Serving the Poor Parts 1, 2, and 3, what is your next step?