Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Caution in Serving the Poor

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to volunteer at Night Strike, where hundreds of homeless and poor are served food, drink, provided clothes, and services like hair cutting and feet washing. As the leaders of the ministry put it we "love people because people matter." I think this is an awesome ministry, and I was really impressed with the simplicity and deeply relational focus. I floated around, serving people coffee or hot cocoa while they waited in line for a hot meal. I enjoyed talking to the folks and learning some of their stories. Some of the folks were talkative, but others seemed uncomfortable and I had to work at the conversation.

I spent some time with a man I'll call Jim, and he shared that he has been living somewhere in Northwest Portland in the bushes for 2 years. He was suffering from some sort of disability, and was trying to find work. I learned that his wife had been unfaithful years ago, bringing him from New York to Portland for a "new life." I got a chance to pray with "Jim" about some job applications he was hoping would result in something. I hope that I can see Jim again soon and see how things are going with him.

I felt good about the evening, and was thankful that I volunteered. And I think that most of the volunteers felt that way. So have can I possibly find any sort of "caution" in this?

As I contemplated on the evening, I realized how easy it is for those who are serving, to feel somehow superior to those who are being served. (To be clear, I don't have any reason to believe that others were feeling this, I am only sharing some of my deeper, hidden thoughts.) Indeed, when you learn about their stories, it is natural to feel thankful for the blessings in your own life. Obviously there is nothing wrong with this. But oh how easy to fall into the trap of superiority and pride! I raise this caution not as an excuse to not serve the poor, but to be aware of our motivations and attitudes. I've written previously that all of us, even if we are not materially poor, have our own brokenness and poverty that needs God's healing. I want to put that truth into practice, especially when serving those who have a whole lot less than I do.

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