In His ministry did Jesus act on sympathy or compassion? According to scripture it was the word “compassion”. He didn’t feel sorry for people, he was driven to compassion for people, something totally different. He never told people to keep on doing what they were doing, instead He empowered them and expected change. Here’s a scary fact: 53% of students in the Wooster City School District receive free or reduced lunches. This number represents real families that are relying upon governmental services to get basic needs (such as food) met. Is this a microcosm of the new America, a 21st century nation? Will the number in the future change in either direction? Do we have any evidence among us that families who receive this assistance have the empowerment to not receive it anymore?The church’s role in answering these questions is a unique one. For one, we cannot begin to try and address it without acknowledging our culpability in the system. What we have affirmed, voted for, and settled for as American Christians in this matter isn’t God’s design for the church to begin with. Yes, it is a huge anti-God thing to enable people and the snowball of this problem is heading right at us. I’m not re-inventing scripture, just simply stating that if God wanted the church to be an establishment of results driven by political policies, don’t you think He would have gone about things a lot differently than how they went down; a baby born in a barn, living among commoners, never sat on a throne, didn’t rise up over the Romans, was executed like a criminal, resurrected and handed the tasks of the Kingdom over to 12 poor guys who fish, etc…..? You get the idea. Furthermore, look where we are in Wooster, Ohio today: more than half of our community is living on government assistance! How long can such a thing be financially sustained? The math doesn’t add up and neither does the logic which stands in defiance of our deep need to find self respect through providing for our families. The New Testament church was designed to empower people to action, not settle for sympathetic policy. The NT church created a venue for people to be constantly connected into each others lives through meaningful relationships. When there is a meaningful relationship, there is care for one another. It is through our relationships that we see the needs of those we care about, not through programs. Yes, this is a painful process and it isn’t perfect, but it is so healthy in design. How much more effective will we be as race of people helping each other if we begin to seek God’s solution of caring through his design of church versus our design of welfare, soup kitchens, food pantries, and food stamps?
Though the solutions to this problem don’t stop with one or two thoughts, they are wrapped up in a reality that if we as the church just provide the meals, the services and support of those who legislate enabling, the number of welfare recipients will grow. Our role is to do the really hard work of digging deep into the abyss of ministries that provide to teach and foster healthy living for children and teens. The reason the solution has to come from prevention starting with them can be best explained with the following:
I have encountered countless adults in the last two years who adamantly communicate to me that its okay that they don’t work right now because they are “waiting”. Waiting for a disability check (this seems to be the most popular response, I always ask what they disability is, most times, the answers are vague), waiting for a potential employer to call back, waiting for their tax return, waiting for a new place to live, waiting for the minutes on their government supplied cell phone to reset so then they can call potential employers, waiting for a call back from an agency to see if a bill will get paid… the waiting list goes on and on. I don’t walk up to people on the street and inquire this stuff, they come to our office, asking for assistance because the assistance that they are getting isn’t enough, so they are looking for more while they are waiting. The thing is, when you raise your children in an environment of always waiting, your children will have the same expectations for themselves and their futures. They in turn become adults living in society, waiting for supplemented provision, and the waiting list grows. Yes, the economy hasn’t helped, but neither have our people. I will never forget the words of a friend of mine from about seven years ago. His name was Adan. Adan illegally immigrated to our country from Mexico and was employed in a labor field (drywall) where most days he worked 10-12 hours. As we were discussing his current immigration status, I inquired as to why he thought it was okay to work illegally in a job that a legal citizen could have. His reply was, “Your people don’t want this job. They can make more with food stamps and disability.” This was a conversation that took place in 2005, two years before the economy got really bad. What are our children learning about how life works and who are they learning it from? For many, they are learning to wait, not to do, and they are learning it from their parents who have been given this affirmation from society. Perhaps one of the saddest consequences of this, is that it is so hard for people of genuine need to stand out in a crowd.
I believe that we can work together with other churches and agencies in the community to proactively show the children and teens of our community something different. What are the reasons that we should continue to provide meals and food assistance without implementing mandatory education of life skills for the children of the household? I know you can try it with the adults with little success, but the kids are the ones who hurt the most from not knowing. How many families who want to change because of compassion are empowered to take action and who is teaching the skills needed to be confident in this? Is there an identifiable separation between them and those who do not? What about those who cannot? Can we identify them from those who are enabled? I don’t believe we can under the current political, church backed structure that has failed us. As the Community Outreach Ministry at our church is constantly looking for new ways to effectively fulfill our calling, we will keep plugging away at this with other church and community leaders that are willing to try something different and take some risks. Will many be offended? Yes. Could many more be empowered? I believe so.