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How to Help
Q. What is the best thing for me to do when I see beggars on street corners? It's frustrating because I know that when given money or hand-outs many of them head directly over to the stores to purchase alcohol. But, I want to teach my kids compassion, too. Where can I start?
Thank you for this timely question. A number of people have asked how they can teach compassion for the poor to their children without enabling addictive or destructive behaviors in their communities.
As a cautionary note, experts say our area has a number of panhandlers who maintain a "pecking order" and exclusive turf for their own street corner or spot. Many make as much as $50 to $60 a day from the unwary public!
They collect large sums, spend it on drugs or booze and have binges before heading to the streets again. They refuse to follow rules at rescue missions and decline any form of aid where they might have to conform to ethical behaviors.
A 21st Century Problem
Having said that, in today's economy we are witnessing increasingly more homeless families and beggars. Many have lost their jobs, homes and families through no fault of their own.
Furthermore, financial stress breeds marriage problems and arguments which result in more domestic abuse and divorce. Children become victims of these broken marriages.
A Car Becomes Home
Homelessness becomes a way of life for these families in ways we couldn't even imagine just five years ago. In fact, a shocking number of families are now living in their cars - and some consider themselves lucky!
This new type of homelessness is an additional factor to street-corner beggars we have always seen around shopping centers or under bridges. Some are drug abusers, alcoholics and the mentally-ill who cannot adjust to community care centers or rescue missions.
So what can or should we do? How can we help without becoming enablers? What do we teach our children?
For those who may not know, the Bible tells us that one of the most important things we can do is to help the poor. This is why the focus of most charities and missions worldwide has been to assist those less fortunate than we are.
In Isaiah 58:10 we read,
"Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon" (NLT).
The prophet Zechariah adds…"Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor" (Zech. 7:9, NIV).
This doesn't just apply to charities overseas, however. The Apostle James encourages believers to help brothers and sisters, too. This includes neighbors as well as fellow believers.
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3:17, NIV).
Paul reminds us "to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
Paul also warns, "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
James even tells us what "real" faith is:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).
We have listed all of these verses to emphasize the fact that true charity, missions, and helping the poor is one of God's primary concerns. Sometimes we forget this as we go about our daily business. So it's good to review it from time to time.
Sodom's Greatest Sin
In fact, it shocks many Christians to learn that Sodom's greatest sin was not homosexuality. It was ignoring the poor among them.
…"this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16:49, NASB).
So what would Biblical compassion for the poor look like in today's world? How do we teach our children about poverty and homelessness? To whom should we give funds or cash for survival out there on the streets? What should we give and in what manner should we give it?
Gospel Rescue Missions&Food Banks
To start with many families have taken their children to see a rescue mission firsthand. Sometimes rescue missions allow visitors to tour the facilities and are helpful in teaching citizens the standards or rules residents must follow to receive aid.
For example, some rescue missions have a huge turnover and only allow residents to receive food, clothing and shelter for three days. Residents must be out of the facility looking for a job eight hours daily and must "prove" they have applied for jobs.
Longer-Term Rescue Missions
Other rescue missions take in longer-term residents and help them recover from illnesses, family break-ups, unwanted pregnancies, and other life stressors. Some missions even help talented residents receive valuable job training at a community college or through a business. Smaller towns are more likely to provide extended-stay aid for their less fortunate neighbors.
Many cities have food banks, Salvation Army services, and other organized aid groups. It's a terrific education to search the Yellow Pages and arrange for our children to see these facilities.
Battered Women's Shelters
Giving emotional and financial support to traumatized women is one way to fulfill the Apostle James' dictum to show "true religion" by helping widows and orphans (James 1:27). Some shelters encourage citizens to volunteer by reading stories to anxious youngsters. Others appreciate some other method of volunteering. Usually, citizens can tour these facilities, too, and learn what is helpful and needed.
Some drug rehab programs offer valuable, life-changing services to mothers, fathers and their children. They, too, provide ways for us to live out biblical principles of aiding the less fortunate. It is best to check with each facility to see what they offer and how we can help.
Becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, foster parent or foster grandparent are other ways to help orphans and widows. Check with Social Services to see how you can help.
Many churches have a "Joseph Closet" patterned after the biblical Joseph who gathered and stored food for seven lean years (Genesis 41:48-49). Your church may have a storage facility where members collect canned goods, sanitation supplies and clothing for the poor. Ask your church if they offer aid to the poor and find ways to help stock these supply rooms. Be sure to engage your children in these endeavors.
Some charities give yearly benefit dinners to help raise funds for missions. Keep your eyes on local news reports to become aware of these varied ways to raise necessary monies.
With respect to you and your kids, I would have you take the time to visit your local Gospel Rescue Mission. Take a tour and see what really goes on. This will put a face on your compassion and that of your kids. Make it a personal issue. Sometimes it is easier to write a check than be involved personally. So take a chance and take a tour and volunteer.
The next thing is to recognize that giving is not restricted to money. We know a friend who took a tour and then volunteered to use his skills as a carpenter to build a craft room for the kids who live in the Rescue Mission. He made it personal and he is being blessed for it.
We welcome your ideas - please send us your thoughts or suggestions and we will add them to this list in the days ahead.
Thanks to everyone for your input.
Authors Ken Emilio holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University and is the current director of our local Gospel Rescue Mission. Valorie received her MA in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian origins. Both have a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
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