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A letter to churches in Federal Way
An elderly lady stopped by the local community center, which was rendering diverse services from a church building.
She had received an encouraging referral in that she would find assistance and communal support. To her painful surprise, she was neglected, and because of her non-participation in the local church, was not “qualified” for services.
Years ago there was a fad with the W.W.J.D. acronyms (What Would Jesus Do?). I say to you today, W.W.Y.D. (What Will You Do?).
The pastor of a local church announced this year’s plan to feed the needy. It really caught my attention as the minister shared with his congregants that the target recipients of their charity would be a segment of the Latino community.
Of course that brought a warm sense of gratitude. Then I wondered if this would be just another repeat act of tokenism and self-boasting. So often, what should be the intent ends up being a revelation of the true character of that giving church or organization.
It reminds me of the fall season display of leaves turning colors, and as the leaves are turning colors and falling to the ground, the annual process of this divine work often goes unnoticed and swept into the recycle bin. In similar fashion, often the good deeds of charity and helping the poor will go unnoticed, in spite of how beautiful and colorful the programs may be — only to be just another “community service” with a “feel good” pat on the moral ego of the facilitating organization.
The author John McKnight defines it: “Services should not be called community services if they do not involve people in community relationships.” So, if there is no positive effect on the participation of labeled people, what is community life and how can it produce community services?
If a community is comprised of various groups of people who work together on a face-to-face basis in public life, then why does the local church continue to offer community services in a way that becomes a privatized service rather than a public service? What is the criteria for folks like this elderly lady to be the benefactor of our community services?
Is today’s remedy the empowerment of faith-based organizations by providing them with governmental support? Yet while doing that, the minimal resources that exist for the poor keep getting eliminated? Is that a paradox or what? That elderly lady is a prime example of the system that “takes from Paul to give to Peter,” but with a tighter twist: You must be the right “label.”
It is then the challenge for the church and the faith-based organizations to develop the much-needed social, psychological and spiritual services — but also to create a system that does not “bottleneck” the implementation of the services with its internal criterias. The system must be free of labels; it needs to be full of the understanding of the nature of “what would Jesus do.”
This challenge of understanding the poor is doing something about it every day — to meet the needs of the poor, desolate and hopeless people that are in your proximity.
What should you do (W.S.Y.D.)? Recognize that your desire to help the needy is admirable regardless of who it may be, but will only be that, until the principals of W.W.J.D. are understood.
1. Understand that the poor are with us and live among us every day. You must believe and live the concept of “it is better to give than to receive.”
2. Understand in order to feel the brokenness of the heartbeat of a hurting and hopeless person, you must get close to his/her heart.
3. Understand who is poor and who is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Just because a person speaks a different language and comes from another country doesn’t mean that they are poor.
4. Understand that you must have a system that is accountable and free from any form of self-serving agenda. Feed the poor without any pre-conditions. Don’t obligate them to attend a church meeting or service.
5. Understand that poverty is not eradicated with a mere turkey meal or a Christmas toy. You will beat out hunger and poverty when you develop a long-term approach or strategy that empowers the poor to be self-sustaining.
The responsibility to be kind to the poor is the part that the religious community often fails. It is easier to take the “since we always have them” and “why worry about them because they will figure out something to do” approaches. Americans especially take the attitude of “why bother” if they are going to be around.
Jim Wallis in his book “God’s Politics” writes: “To discover the forgotten poor is more than the work of social action. It is nothing less than to restore the integrity of the Word of God — in our lives, our churches and our communities.”
So as the churches prepare to be a blessing to the less fortunate, I remind you that it takes a genuine giving heart to make it a true celebration. The one principal you must believe and live is the concept of “it is better to give than to receive.” When done, it will bring out the Good Samaritans of our community.
Tito Hinojos is a Federal Way resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.