Right Place, Right Time

<%image(20050520-homeless.jpg|105|121|homeless)%> I’m not the nicest person. Really. I have heard the same song and dance many a time: “I need money and a place to stay,” “I’m trying to get section 8 housing,” “My doctor ordered that I can’t work anymore, but I can’t get disability,” yadda yadda yadda, knowing that the person on the other end of the phone just wants money. I usually want to help, but just don’t know how.

There’s a disconnect in my prideful mind from the logic of people who call the church office asking for help. I think: no money + rent + eviction = get a job no matter what. Is your back sore? Find a job where you can sit or work from home! No home + no job = call the number of the shelter that actually has room for you where you can stay for free (even if it’s a little far from where you would like to be). And yet, many needy and working poor do not share my logic.

Alas, the disconnect happens and I reiterate: I’m not the nicest person.

When it comes to helping people at the office, my value is little more than Chris Farley as the motivational speaker. “Get a freakin’ job or you’ll end up in a van down by the river!!!” (the delaware that is). But seriously, I just don’t know how to help people who exhibit that “stuckness” in life that seems to only beg for more money to keep things at status quo.

On one hand, I see a lesson. I usually don’t want to go through the radical change that God would have for me. I have my lousy way of living and want God to pour his resources in. Amazingly, he pours in to me and changes me gradually. How does that work when I have the opportunity to help people in real life? I gathered a few clues today.

Debbie and Ann stopped by to work with the food pantry today. Knowing that they would be here, I told a lady in need to swing by around 12 to talk with them. Here’s what I gathered from these Christ-like models of service to the poor who put me to shame:

1. It takes time:
Debbie sat with this lady for two hours, listening to the same story over and over and the same facts repeated, reitterated, and then griped upon. She was the embodiment of patience. Debbie also got a really good handle of this lady’s story. This is something that I did as well, but letting the woman go on and on seemed to fill in some gaps that I had missed.

2. Empathy really helps:
Ann had been in rough financial straights before, so she was the perfect person to empathize with this woman. She gave the pep talk, encouraging the woman that she had been there too and that if she made it, anybody can. It was a fairly trite and cliche talk, but with the experiences behind the words, there was a real power.

3. It takes prayer:
Ann prayed for the lady and it seemed to be very helpful and appropriate.

4. The system is not the best.
Debbie had a lot of compassion for the lady, sharing with me that the services for the poor in Bucks County, PA are the not the best. The waiting lists are long for shelters and assistance. Even if a lot of people are taking advantage of the system, there is a need for more shelters and counseling programs. Perhaps a job placement office in a shelter could really help some people find jobs that would fit with their abilities and disabilities.

While I still wrestle with my own thoughts and feelings on this matter, I think that Debbie and Ann gave me a new perspective when helping the poor. I pray for grace and humility as I try to help more people in the future.