What's Needed?

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We just celebrated Thanksgiving Day in Canada.  I was blessed to be part of a large meal served to over 2000 people, at Union Gospel Mission, (UGM) an organization located in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver (an area known as Canada's poorest postal code; where the issues of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness are concentrated). It was a wonderful day as guests enjoyed a classic thanksgiving meal with all the fixings, while getting to reconnect with old friends and celebrating with their family.

In the midst of this grand feast, I was reminded of these words from the Senior Chaplain at UGM.  "The need doesn't stop for a holiday - that's why we never close".  Actually, UGM, which serves daily meals, increases the number of meals it serves on weekends and holidays because other organizations are closed.  That's part of their commitment to helping those in need.

The need doesn't stop.  So, what might that mean for us as deacons, who are elected to be prophetic critics of injustice and compassionate to the needy?  

Jesus said the poor would always be with us.  He wasn't saying it to give us an excuse not to help them.  Rather, the gospel, and the life of Jesus paint a much different picture about how Christians are to love and interact with those in poverty.  I guess the question is, are we living that out?  And, in our congregational roles as leaders - are we inspiring others to do the same?

This little quote from Stephen Colbert, a comedian, has recently resurfaced (confession: I saw it on Facebook, but it's thought provoking and worth sharing). "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it".  (You can read Tony Campolo's thoughts on this on his blog, and if you're in the US, you can actually watch the videos.)

With American Thanksgiving a month and a half away, and Christmas two and half months away, I'm wondering how we as deacons might be able to encourage our congregations to see that not only do the needs not stop for the holidays, but they also don't massively increase.  How can we be showing consistent love and support for those who are in need in our particular areas.  What does it mean for each of us, individually and communally to show the love of God in our circles of influence?  Is it possible for us to use these holidays as a catalyst for building long-lasting relationships with people who need assistance? 

Posted in: Deacons; Blog Photo courtesy Ed Schipul - http://www.flickr.com/photos/eschipul/431902450/ Image: See Credit

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Thanks for the discussion topic, Melissa.  I attend a local CRC here in Grand Rapids, Michigan where a large part of our congregation is made up of the poor - meaning they don't have as much money as many people in our society.  I say it that way because they are in fact not poor in many other ways - they are rich in love towards each other and God; they are rich in compassion towards each other; and they are rich in knowledge about how to live poor in our world.  In fact, in the 5 years since I've attended this church I've also learned (much to my surprise) that the poor aren't dying to be like me (middle class) - they are often perfectly happy to live within a framework of poverty because that largely what they know and were raised in.  They've learned and been taught the lessons of how to live on less for long periods of time, and now it's their lifestyle.

Sure, a little handout might help from time to time, but that brings me to your question - how do we as Christians take care of the poor around the holidays or at any time of the year?  I've learned a lot from attending this church for the past 5 years, not the least of which is that the poor don't really want your money - they want you.  That's right - you, and the relationship they can have with you.  Just like I wouldn't show love to my middle class neighbors by giving them money or food and then walking away, the poor see your love through relationships.  I guess we're all the same that way in the end.  The messiness of relationship is the best way to take care of the poor, just like it's the best way to take care of and show love to everyone else.

So, what's a practical way of doing this for your church?  Our congregation has partnered with a few suburban CRC congregations in Grand Rapids to accomplish what I think you're looking for in your post.  One of our main goals is to bring the congregations into relationship with each other - learning from each other how best to serve and love each other - thereby showing the love of Christ to the world.  Yeah, it's messy and difficult and more than a little uncomfortable at times.  But it's starting to work.  And yes, they give us some money, but that's not the main goal.

If you can find a suitable urban congregation in your area (CRC or not), maybe that's a good starting point. 

Blessings! 

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