As the lives of those who are poor are difficult, so too, is ministering among them. It carries with it numbers and levels of challenges.
You never can address spiritual needs in a vacuum (and that’s not bad news because Jesus courageously engaged people’s needs). Ministering among poor communities, it won’t be long before you hear about one of their tough situations or you get a request for help of some kind. In my context, usually it’s for help finding work, which I’m very limited in being able to do, and often may include requests for finances, since most of these individuals have little savings and no societal safety nets. These requests are usually for grocery money when jobs don’t pay on time, and they often involve sick family members in their home countries. I’ve also fielded requests for loans which banks would never give them in this country, or even in their home country, which they would fully and sincerely intend to pay back, but, from my experience, have not shown the ability to do so.
Let me also say these individuals are not beggars on the street and they are not homeless. They are industrious, forward-thinking, concerned for their families, responsible, and usually have (although often without a degree or certificate) valuable skill sets.
Imagine you get asked regularly to provide some help or funds. This might be a silly exercise, but let’s look at the possibilities.
First, you could say yes to everyone. That helps people, and it meets a lot of temporary needs, and maybe it even gives people a leg up to a better earning job or an education or certificate that will improve their standard of living. On the other hand, there are two drawbacks. First, other people in their community will hear about it, and also ask you as well, and then you need to have a good reason that you give to some people and not others. (Maybe it’s length of relationship; maybe you could find another reason.) Secondly, they will know that they can depend on you for future requests. They come from large communities that also have profound needs, and most of the people they know have similar earning power and will have very little disposable income. Efforts to save are usually consumed by the needs of family members or close ties looking for help. Thus, always giving can quickly create dependence upon the outsider and draw the recipient away from his or her community, which will reduce her potential impact on her community. It’s a dicey game.
Secondly, you might swing to the other extreme. You can say no to everyone who asks you to give. I think it’s obvious why this is not a good solution.
Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
will also cry out and not be answered.
You also miss out on one of the most powerful wealth-related promises in scripture.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will reward them for what they have done.
The obvious solution, then, is to say yes to some people and no to others. This one is better because it allows you to give to those that need help, but it’s also a tough solution because it presents challenges. On the one hand, we assume that we know people’s situations much better than we actually do. We vastly overestimate our own understanding of situations and will often make mistakes. Secondly, we have to have a reason for saying yes in some cases and no in some cases. And there needs to be a decision-making matrix for the difference between the two. This instantly catapults you into the weeds, where this post isn’t long enough to go.
I have adopted an adapted version of this one for the most part where I usually say yes to certain things and no to other things, and when I do give, it is giving it a certain way. (Givings goods is preferred rather than cash, and when it is cash, I often ask for receipts.) Additionally, the amount of time I’ve known that person, as well as the depth of our relationship factors into it. I’ll try to connect them with near-culture churches, if possible. It’s rare that I give enough to meet their total need myself, although at times the Lord has led me to do that.
Honestly, it’s hard to know what God is leading in every situation. I’m constantly doubting and evaluating myself, as well as asking near-culture partners for advice.
While doing this, though, we have to look toward their community’s real and greater needs, which are systemic, needs which one person alone cannot meet. It’ll take a city of interconnected believers, both ministers and businessmen and women, to address these systemic issues and bring communities out of poverty. Community development, in the long-term, can give greater efficacy through education and training, and it can open the door to better jobs.
That’s a journey we are on the very beginning steps of, and I pray for the Lord to bring the body of Christ in our city God-sized solutions to mammoth systemic problems.