Cheryl taught me about helping people. She and I were on staff at a drop-in center for homeless people and ex-offenders in a downtown outreach church. Cheryl had been homeless, but now had a home, sort of. The house was in repossession limbo, but she was making payments on it and living there with her son, so they let her stay.
She taught a class on how to help people without enabling them or creating an unequal power relationship with them. It was based on research from third-world countries on charity programs. Some of these programs actually made life worse for the people they meant to help, but the class boiled down to the difference between helping and building relationships.
The down-and-out community wanted to know if we were just there for the day to make ourselves feel better, or if we were there to stay and get to know them. They would take whatever free stuff we had, but would not open up for relationship until they were convinced the conversation would go both ways, and lead somewhere.
I’ve seen it many times. Well-meaning people get a group together and go downtown with a bunch of stuff to give away, usually accompanied by some kind of gospel message. The downtown folks know about the gospel, but they need more than a bag lunch, new socks, and a coat. They need love just like people in houses do, but love takes time and has to go in both directions to become friendship.
The only way to get that is through constancy. Go ahead and go, but don’t just go once and say you helped the needy. Keep on going, develop real relationships, and become family with those you reach out to. If you can’t handle that with homeless people, then serve somewhere else where you can become family. Your heart will lead you to your calling.
The Christian life is mutual submission. We have it within marriage, in the church itself, and we have it with those we feel called to serve. We also have it with God. Think about it – we submit to his will for us, but he also listens to our prayers and answers them. That is a two-way relationship with our creator, savior – and yes, friend.
He meets us where we are without enabling our faults or making it a power trip. Jesus came as an ordinary person, with his glory set aside, so that he could have a relationship with us. He helps us in our need, but we also give back. The conversation goes both ways. It isn’t a program – it’s love.
Constancy is a characteristic of God. He is always there and never changes. When he says anything, he keeps his word. We become effective as ambassadors for God when we lower ourselves, as he did, become like those we see in need, and don’t stop.
I don’t think Bible scholarship has brought that many people into the kingdom. Love, mutual submission, and constancy win souls for Jesus. They also make lifetime friends.