Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rehumanization (Dehumanization Trilogy-3)

How do we end the cycle of dehumanization for the homeless? How can we get our communities to see that the homeless should have the right to sleep, eat and receive benefits, just like everyone else? The answer to so many community issues, is, once again found within ourselves. Below are some actions that can be taken in order to help us treat the homeless as human and so be able to give them a chance to be treated as human in our community.

Recognize the Similarities and Differences
In order to see a different group as equal human beings as ourselves, we must see them as they are—like us in essential ways, but different as well. We must connect with them in the similarities, but also allow them the differences—just like we would any family member or co-worker.
The homeless are people just like us. They need to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom, just like we do. They desire respect, entertainment and security, just like we do. They want to be a part of a community and to give to that community just like we do.
But the homeless are also different. There is a basic class difference, for one thing. Some of these differences have been chronicled in books and articles. One place to start is Ruth Payne’s chart of the hidden rules of classes (although it must be noted that her base for the “lower class” group is primarily African-American, not Anglo).
We must also recognize that the chronic homeless—those who have been on the street for more than a year or two—are more different than simple class distinctions. Their experience and new community have changed them more dramatically than a simple class analysis can determine. The chronic homeless are a part of a marginal society and have the characteristics of those who know they are not welcomed by the majority group. To understand these differences we could read an article or book. But what is better is to connect with the homeless themselves.

Meet the homeless
Assisting the homeless isn’t as easy as giving someone a sack lunch. If the attitude toward the homeless is to change in our society, we must bite the bullet and actually meet some homeless. This is probably the most difficult stage. We must overcome our fears and presuppositions of the homeless and meet them in a neutral place. Probably the best place to rub elbows with the down and out are soup kitchens or other free meals. (Local soup kitchens are easily found on the internet.)
Come prepared with a couple questions to open a conversation. And remember, the homeless are probably just as nervous about you are you are of them! Trust isn’t built immediately, but give it time and get to know each other.

Assist the homeless
Perhaps there is a homeless person you have taken a “shine” to. You appreciate this person and want to help. So see what you can do. Can you purchase some bedding or clothing for them? Could you provide them with some paid labor? Are you comfortable to have them spend the night? Don’t push yourself too quickly. Your homeless friend isn’t expecting anything from you. But if you provide some help that isn’t just an act of pity, they will appreciate you and open up more to you.

Listen to the homeless
After your homeless friend (or friends) trust you some, then you will hear more and more stories about how they live and some of the difficulties they face daily. You might be shocked at some of the things they face daily without so much as a concern. You might even doubt some of the stories are true, they are so shocking. If you aren’t sure, check the stories out with others on the street. Most homeless don’t find a need to corroborate a lie, so cross-checking gets you close to the truth. Again, be prepared to be shocked at just how poorly the homeless are treated.

Give the homeless work
If you have some income and can provide the homeless some work, please do so. Almost all the homeless want to have some day labor or short-term jobs, but are rarely given the opportunity. As you trust more homeless you might be able to hire more of them, so they can earn their own keep. This helps not only the individual homeless, but it also helps the community see that the homeless really do work.

Invite the homeless to groups, parties
There might be some groups that some homeless might want to go to. Picnics, BBQs, Bible studies, reading groups (many homeless DO read, of course), perhaps even family events. The more that people see the homeless in more “normal” situations, the more normal people see the homeless being, and thus a part of society.

Speak up for the homeless perspective
Begin attending community meetings such as neighborhood groups, city council meetings, local business groups, church meetings and others and seek to speak the perspective of the homeless. Inform them of the degradation of the homeless in their own community and invite them to meet the homeless at a soup kitchen.

Give some homeless opportunity to speak up
Some homeless are open to share their perspective to small groups. If there is an opportunity, give it. In the end, only when the homeless can speak for themselves will they be able to be seen as real people.

How Are The Homeless Dehumanized?

Almost every person who is homeless goes through a process of dehumanization. Here are some of the ways homeless people are dehumanized in many cities in the U.S.

The homeless become homeless because they are separated from their family and friends, not allowed space in their social network to live. For some, this is because they are doing or have done things that were unacceptable for their community, for others it is because they have received all the help their social community feel they deserve to have, while for others it is because they have no social network at all. Whatever the case, the homeless person begins their time on the street alone, separated from the people they are familiar with.
This segregation continues as the homeless are assumed to be a “class apart.” This assumption soon becomes truth as those on the street, getting their clothes and food from the same places, often begin to look like each other. For many people, although there is a homeless “look” about them, many never make connections with others on the street. Although there are some homeless communities, for the most part each person on the street is separated from everyone else, alone and lonely.

The majority culture fear the homeless because of their differences. First of all, almost all of the homeless come from the lower classes, which have different cultural standards and mores than the middle class—the ruling culture. Also, since most people don’t understand how people become homeless or why some remain on the street, there is a distinct otherness about the homeless. A lack of understanding of a social group almost always creates social fear and disgust of the other group.

Illegal to be Poor
They are automatically criminals in most towns and cities in the U.S. which have anti-camping ordinances. Although homelessness is almost always an unwanted tragedy by those who experience it, most cities and towns, by having this ordinance, makes it illegal to have this tragedy occur to one. There are certain types of poverty which will cause one to be treated as a criminal, of which homelessness is one.

The Criminal Label
Because it is illegal to be without a house, the police feel the social obligation to treat the homeless as criminals. It is assumed, wrongly, that the homeless, especially the chronic homeless, are hotbeds of criminal activity, and so every homeless person is checked by local police. Because they are assumed to be criminals, it is made clear to them that police service is not for them because they are not really a part of the community. Thus they are denied community security.
At times the homeless, because they are already labeled as criminals, feel that they have the right to act as low-level criminals. They might drink in public, jaywalk, participate in low-level drug trade or steal items from stores to sell.

Attacked by Police
Also, because of the assumption of wrongdoing, the police at rare times, especially in certain communities, feel it necessary to be brutal. The homeless are excluded from public areas where they did no criminal activity, verbally abused by the police, beat up by the police and attacked by police dogs. While these instances are relatively rare compared to the number of times the homeless are stopped by the police, these incidents cause each encounter between a homeless person and a police officer to be tinged with fear.

Community Self-maligned
Because it is assumed by the majority culture that all homeless are criminals, low-lifes and screwups, almost every homeless person comes into the homeless community assuming that of their fellows. They will assume that every homeless person is a thief, drug user, alcoholic and lazy until they are proven otherwise. Thus, even when one interviews the homeless about their street community, they will degrade them all, except for the few that they personally know.

Refused a Place to Sleep
The homeless, because they have broken a camping ordinance (because they have no way of obtaining an apartment), they are denied the right to sleep on public property or (in some cities) on private property, even if they have permission. This means that they are often awakened in the middle of the night, rousted out of bed and told to move all of their possessions out of whatever space they are in within a given period of time, often an hour. Depending on where the homeless person is, this may happen as little as every two years, or as frequently as once a week.

Property stolen legally
Because they are camping illegally, the property of the homeless is also at risk to be stolen or damaged by public servants. Police officers, park workers, other government crews and also other homeless tear up tents, steal sleeping bags, throw away clothes, steal money and take and sell precious metals.

Denied food
In some cities, it is illegal to serve the homeless a free meal. The fines are steep to those churches or organizations who take the moral high ground and serve the homeless despite the ban. Even in cities in which meals are available, most homeless only eat one meal a day, because of the difficulty of getting across town from one meal to another, and to prevent themselves from having to stand in long lines more than once a day.

Denied bathrooms
Because the homeless are assumed to have a higher level of drug use, they are, as a group, denied access to bathrooms. Most homeless train themselves to need to go to the bathroom once or twice a day

Denied proper health care
Almost all emergency rooms are required by law to meet the desperate needs of those who come for treatment, especially life-threatening emergencies. However, many doctors and nurses, when they see a patient has been treated for drug-related issues or when they see a patient is homeless, they will do the least amount of work possible and send the patient away as quickly as possible. Some emergency rooms only see a homeless patient after all the other patients have gone home.
Even if a hospital provides adequate medical care, if a homeless person’s care is severe, the hospital will send the patient “home” to a shelter or to the street, with inadequate healing time, thus causing secondary infections, a recurrence of the condition and sometimes even death.

Existence denied
Many communities deny that there are any homeless among them at all. If a group tries to assist the homeless in a community, the mayor or police chief may deny that any homeless exist in their community, despite them sending police officers to roust the homeless out of their camps. Bill O’Reily infamously denied the existence of homeless veterans, despite some living only blocks away from his studio.

Verbally abused
Any homeless person trying to catch up on their lack of sleep the night before or asking for money for food will at times be maligned and abused by some. They are abused by those who feel that the very act of being asked for assistance is an affront to them and also, at times, by police officers. They are sometimes just told to “get a job”, but often they are invited to participate in more colorful activity.

The homeless are under constant danger of attack. The police are not with them, but against them. A routine police sweep, to “move the homeless on,” might turn violent where the homeless person might be electrocuted with a tazer, attacked by a dog, or just beat up. Some young people, feeling their community’s wrath against the homeless, feel that they have the right to beat up homeless people, burn them or even murder them.

These are the conditions the Jews and Gypsies had to live under before the holocaust really got underway. The Tutsis in the early stages of the Rwandan holocaust faced some of these conditions, such as being forced to move out of their homes, living under fear of attack and being declared illegal as a group. Those who are tortured for terrorist activity face many of the same problems—lack of sleep, lack of food, inadequate health care, fear of attack at any time of the day or night. Many groups’ existence have been denied to deny them adequate protection when a genocide occurs.

What have the homeless done to warrant such ill treatment? None of the stereotypes of the homeless hold up under scrutiny (see “Myths of the Homeless”). Are the homeless maligned, mistreated and refused protection to communicate to them that they are not wanted? That communication has been clearly received.

But I also wonder, given the pattern of dehumanization before any genocide, should the U.S. become more of a society of fear than it already is, how long will it be until the homeless are locked in camps and allowed to die of the sickness that comes of having inadequate food and bathroom facilities? What is the next stage in the dehumanization of the homeless?

The only way the state of the homeless will get better is if we all become concerned. And being concerned can only come about when we know those who are suffering.

What is Dehumanization? (Dehumanization Trilogy-1)

What is Dehumanization?

“Loss of human characteristics; brutalization by either mental or physical means; stripping one of self-esteem.” —(Online Medical Dictionary)

Dehumanization is:

Taking away the rights of some that most have
This is to offer rights to most citizens, but to deny those same rights to other citizens. This is to create a hierarchy of humanity, where some are considered “human” or “normal” while others are considered “sub-normal.”

Denying human dignity in life or death
This is to cause one to be in a place of humiliation or continual shame, either physically or mentally.

Denying one’s ability to care for oneself
If one is denied food, shelter, clothing, safety, or health when these are readily available, then that one is rejected as being less than a human who has all of these basic needs.

Being controlled by other’s decisions
If one is not given the ability to be an independent unit, able to participate in one’s own care and make decisions which leads to ones own ability to provide for one’s needs, then they are denied their own self-will, which is basic to all humans.

Convincing another that they are sub-human
The process of dehumanization is complete when one personally admits that they are less than “normal” and unworthy to live with others.

Some practical aspects of dehumanization:

Limiting one’s ability to sleep
Sleep is necessary for survival. To deprive one of sleep on an ongoing basis is to deny one’s ability to function in a mentally healthy way.

Denying the right to go to the bathroom with dignity
Eliminating waste is a basic necessity for life. As a part of human society, it is also something to be done in private. For this reason there are laws for urinating or defecating in public. But should one be denied the basic privacy to go to the bathroom, then that one is dehumanized.

Denying food to another
To deny one the ability to obtain food is to deny one a basic human need.

Denying the ability to obtain fair work
Part of one’s dignity is to participate in work that gives one the ability to feel that one is contributing positively to society, even in a small way. To deny one that participation is to deny one self-respect.

Denying social connection
A human being is a social being. To deny social contact is to deny an essential aspect of what it means to be human.

Physically or mentally punishing another for not giving one proper “respect”
If we cause one to be humiliated for not giving us respect, we are stating our human superiority. Often one does not give respect because of fear or because the person demanding respect already displayed qualities that denies that one proper respect (for instance, demeaning others without cause).

Forcing one to live in denial of one’s believes and/or values
Humans are moral beings, and we must believe that what we do is done with good intentions, or on a positive moral basis or else we lose our dignity and our right to see ourselves as human. To force one to act in a personally unethical manner is to destroy one’s selfhood.

Why choose dehumanization?
Because some need to be punished
Society demands that some be dehumanized because they have done wrongs against society at large. This makes sense for those who are actively harming society, such as murderers, rapists or thieves. These are not safe to be with others who might be harmed, so they should be separated. However, societies will sometimes place others who do no harm to others in the same sub-human category and treat people as criminals who are simply having bad luck.

As revenge for a wrong done
Individuals often demand recompense for a wrong done. They will treat those whom they have seen as wrong-doers as less then human because they see it as a just response to the evil action. However, this only perpetuates the wrong in the world, as dehumanization is an evil done to another. Thus the person receiving sub-human treatment feel right in treating the one giving the punishment as sub-human as well. Thus, dehumanization becomes a cycle, in which everyone involved is dehumanized.

Because social situations demand it
There are certain situations that socially require dehumanization. This is seen most clearly with small children. They do not know enough to keep themselves and others safe and so they are punished with spankings and other treatments that communicate to them that they are less than the one punishing. This kind of treatment is repeated in other social situations in which an authority is attempting to control the behavior of an underling. Such as an employer to an employee, a guard to a prisoner, a soldier to a foreign civilian, a policeman to an assumed criminal, a nurse or doctor to a patient, or a social worker to a client. An authority is not required to treat an underling as a sub-human, but it is an option and commonly utilized.

To protect the rights of the ruling society
Every society has a ruling class, and it is required that the ruling class maintain their rights in order to maintain their authority. These rights are greater than the rights of others whom they rule over, whether the underlings live in their country or not. If the underlings insist upon equal rights with the ruling class, then the ruling class has the responsibility to treat the underlings as sub-human, in order to maintain the stability of society at large. This was largely the case in the Southern United States, subjugating the black slaves and later the African Americans so they would “learn their place” and society might be stable, with the whites retaining their greater rights, thus their authority to rule.

The Results of Dehumanization

Dehumanization Leads to Oppression
Also, creating a sub-human category is assuming that the group deserve to be punished because they lack the self-will or self-control that “real” humans have. This leads to punishment of the innocent, abuse of the helpless, theft from the poor and forcing the sub-humans to live in a context they can barely survive in, even though they could do better, except they are assumed to be sub-human. Should the sub-humans insist upon human rights, then they will be oppressed more with beatings, greater punishments and torture.

Dehumanization leads to Genocide
To question another’s worth of basic human needs is to dehumanize.
To dehumanize to eventually convince that one they don’t deserve to be human.
To convince one of their sub-humanity is to place a group in a sub-human category.
To make a whole group sub-human is to lower the esteem of all humanity.
To lower humanity means that the sub-human group must be separated.
If a group of humans must be separated, then they must be destroyed.

Links on Dehumanization:

Movie: The Man Without A Past

Movie Recommendation:
"The Man Without A Past" by Aki Kaurismäki

Okay, subtitles and foriegn films may not be everyone's cup of tea. But for those who want to understand the homeless and some of the issues they deal with, this movie is essential.

It is played for the deadest of deadpan humor, but it is brilliantly conceived, and it communicates the sense of a homeless community, both those on the street struggling for survival, and those who assist them.

It doesn't flinch from difficult realities, such as gang attacks, the difficulties of not having id and divorce. Yet it is punctuated by moments of humor when one least expects it.

Highly recommended. The humor gets 3 stars out of 5. The depiction of a homeless community gets 5 stars out of 5.

Find out more:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stress Is Good For You

I just saw an interesting fact: Traffic accidents almost never happen on curvy roads or hairpin turns.

You’d think they would. If a place is dangerous, then that would be where the danger is, right? But if we give it just a little bit of thought (especially if we examine our own driving habits), we would realize that it isn’t true. Because when we realize that we are in a dangerous situation, that’s when we pay more attention to our driving. We become hyper-alert and focus on every detail. In reality, the most dangerous roads are the most boring ones. That’s when we start playing with our electronic gadgets. That’s when we focus more on the conversations we are having rather than the road or other cars.

The most dangerous times are when we are the least alert. And we are most alert when we are in the midst of a situation that we understand to be hazardous.

This is why I think that marriage is so important.

Okay, not just marriage, but anything that creates conflict in our lives. Honestly, as human beings, boredom effects us much more than we know. Our ancestors in millennia past had to face life and death situations constantly. Crops weren’t just a pastime for them, it was life and death. If they did it wrong, they and their family couldn’t eat. So they would be perpetually working at things they needed just in order to survive—from hunting, to various kinds of shelter to various kinds of food storage. Life was stressful, and the human body became accustomed to that stress, giving us ways to deal with it.

If we don’t have real stress to deal with, then we will create stress. We will become irritated at the people around us. We will find the temperature to be unpleasing. We will be irritated because our computers don’t work fast enough. We will be dissatisfied because “there’s nothing good on TV”. Without real stress, real issues to deal with, the most petty things become our stresses and anxieties. And then we become petty people. And lonely, because who wants to hear someone complain that the barista just can’t make a latte right?

Marriage really prevents this syndrome from occurring, because it is an instant conflict producer. And the conflicts, while they may seem petty on the surface, have to do with real life-and-death issues such as receiving respect, communicating well and dealing with an alien life form. And, just when you think you’ve got living with the Creature down, then come children. And if that isn’t enough conflict for you, you could always throw in a baby pet as well.

But what I really wanted to talk about here is chemical addiction.

Chemical addiction has one main purpose—to cover up pain. Heroin and other opiates do so blatantly. That is their main purpose, to help one no longer feel pain. But all of the chemical addictions really do the same thing. Alcohol helps one no longer feel conflict, and it takes away the difficulties of making decisions for oneself (after a few hours it turns on the user and puts one into depression). Meth simulates adrenalin to give one a burst of energy, helping one overcompensate for being overwhelmed by life. Marijuana (while not physically addictive) wraps most people in a sheet of apathy, so that nothing actually effects them. This is the same as other tranquilizers, anti-depressants, and prescription pain relievers. And, frankly, an overuse of the entertainment industry.

Short term use of these won’t lead to being emotionally disabled, but long term use destroys our ability to see life in balance, to understand what is really a problem and what is not. To get sucked up into a life without pain, where conflict can be avoided or ignored, also strips us from the ability to deal with issues. We can no longer make decisions or be around other people because it’s just too confusing. The long term addict needs someone else to help them make wise decisions because they can no longer prioritize what is important. And when a real conflict occurs, the issue isn’t any more significant than the neighbor whose stereo is a bit too loud.

I’m not writing this to condemn the addict. He or she is no worse than those of us who retire and then just sit watching TV all day, knowing that we should be doing something productive. Few of us really realize the danger of a life that avoids conflict.

So, for those of you married with children, next time you pass by your “problem” child, give her or him a hug and say, “Thanks for keeping me emotionally healthy.” They’ll probably just shrug it off as another one of your eccentric acts.

Can we love too much?

Originally posted on MennoDiscuss, answering the question, "Is it possible to love someone too much?"

Honestly, we all suffer from loving too little. We are too caught up in our own needs, more often than not (even if that need is a compulsion to help others). The Bible says that if we really love God, then we will love others, and that should never be in conflict. Our usual problem is not loving others too much but loving others in a way that is not love at all.

I know of a woman who loved her adult son so much that whenever he was in need, she would always be there for him. Whenever he needed money, she would provide it. Whenever he needed housing, she would always give it. Whatever he wanted, she was there. And so he became an emotional mess, serverly depressed, never able to provide for himself, a user of drugs and of people because he felt that others were there to help him overcome his suffering. She didn't love her son enough. Not because she didn't care for him, but because all she could see was her role as "mother who provided everything" rather than seriously looking at him to see what he really needed.

True love provides for one's need. But our human needs can be complex.

At times we need to be cared for. At times we need to be left alone to fend for ourselves.
At times we need to listened to. At times we need to listen to God.
At times we need a pat on the back. At times we need to be rebuked.
At times we need free food. At times we need an opportunity to work.
At times we need sex. At times we need abstinence.
At times we need corporate worship. At times we need a silent retreat.

Love is providing for another what they need, when they need it. True love is knowing someone well enough to provide what they really need when they really need it.

Churches Helping the Poor

This was posted in a forum on MennoDiscuss, in a discussion about whether it is enough for a church to help the poor or whether they should give them the gospel as well.

One thing I have noticed in working with the homeless for years in a church context is that "churchies"-- by which I mean middle class Christians-- are willing to give the gospel and they are willing to share resources, but they are often unwilling to do the very thing that would bring people to the Lord-- have a realtionship with the poor.

Both options that have been batted around on this forum-- giving help alone or giving the gospel with it-- are easy to do from a distance. I pass people with signs asking for food or some kind of handout. Usually I have breakfast bars to hand out to people. Sometimes I have a bag which has socks, a bar, some fruit and a tract. But honestly, does any of this really bring anyone to the Lord?

Of course, it is the Spirit that really brings people to the Lord, and we can pray for them. But do we? Do we enact the Spirit by praying for those whom we help?

The best thing we can do to bring people closer to God, to really meet people's needs is to do these things in the context of relationship. I know about 500 homeless people now. I know how they live, what their weaknesses are and their strengths. In the midst of this, I know if I can give them money or not. I know what they really need. I know how to pray for them, and I do. Now, that's easy for me, after all, I'm a pastor to the homeless. It's harder for someone in a middle class context to connect with someone in a lower class.

My recommendation: Rather than setting up a program in which one's church is "serving" the poor with a wall separated between them. Rather than handing out tracts to the poor in hopes that they would come to know Jesus and so become "like us" (which a lot of times means for them not only following Jesus, but also being middle class). Instead, as a family, invite a poor family out to dinner. Don't have them come to your house or go to their house, because they would feel either inadequate or judged. Find a neutral ground that you can just talk and find out more about each other.

Evangelism is so often seen as an instant event. But in reality, it is a long process. And the ones who will win souls aren't those who preach the message often enough, but who get to know people enough that they can really see Christ in them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lost Causes

To be faithful is to have no timetable.

God’s call is God’s call and unless God says otherwise, God doesn’t set a timer once the call is made.

When I first began Anawim, I was called by God to quit my job and spend my time focusing on the spiritual needs of the homeless. The church I was with prayed with me and fully supported me in God’s call. At this point, my family spent a year homeless and struggling financially and with trying to do God’s will despite many opposing our obedience to God’s confirmed call.
The final test came when the church that originally confirmed God’s call to me finally withdrew their support. Some in the church were frustrated at the lack of progress over a year’s period of time. They wanted to see real changes among the people we were working with. They wanted me to “be responsible” and to work for my family and to stop working for those who don’t deserve it. They saw the ministry as being fruitless and the homeless community as being devoid of God.
They no longer allowed us to meet in their facility and told me that it was their view that I should stop reaching out to the homeless community and instead take care of my family.
I didn’t stop, not because I thought that the ministry was accomplishing more than they saw. I recognized that we had almost no one more interested in Jesus than we had to begin with.
Rather, I trusted that God’s calling is not fruitless, not did it have a limit. As human beings we want to see certain goals accomplished by a certain time or else we decide that God didn’t actually call us to the ministry.

But neither Ezekiel nor Jeremiah saw God’s call that way. In fact, God warned them from the get-go: “Look guys, no one will listen to you. You are going to spend all of your lives speaking my truth to people whose ears will be plugged by their fingers. But I want you to speak the message anyway. You may not understand now, but someone, someday will.”
And they stuck with God’s ministry through their entire lives. Even when God told them to do very difficult tasks. Even when people around them mocked them or arrested them. Even when they suffered greatly. Even when they were being forced to do what they did not want to do. They stayed on course, sticking with God’s call no matter what.
And not once in their lives did they see the face of someone who heard and obeyed the messages they faithfully presented. But that was the task God gave them.

In our ministries we should stop being so result-focused. When God gives us a call, He gives us a task. And that task requires sacrifice and it requires commitment. Sometimes the task seems pointless. But the effort is more than just results. Because the best results of any work we do for God is seen only by God.

Blessed are ministers of lost causes, for God will give them success. They sure as hell ain’t gunna get no success any other way.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Our Needs Are Met

Many people ask, “How are your needs met in Anawim?” Our response is always, “God provides for us.” We are usually rebuffed at this point, as if we didn’t really answer their question. Yes, we receive donations from many people, both financially and stuff. But we do not often ask for donations, and when they come, we know that God must have told these people to give to us.

It is easy to develop a ministry based on donations. Building trust so that people would be comfortable to donate to your ministry takes time, but once some donations come in, then you can establish the ministry based on what you receive. If you receive food, you can have a food ministry. If you receive clothes, you can have a clothes ministry. But the way we always ran Anawim is not to have our ministry based on what we receive or on what people think we ought to do, but one what God’s will is. God called us to a certain ministry, to do specific tasks. We will do those tasks, even if we do not receive donations to do those tasks, even if we aren’t appreciated for what we do.

Ezekiel and Jeremiah were both called to similar tasks. They were told by God to speak his word to people who wouldn’t listen (Jeremiah 1:14-19; Ezekiel 2). This seems like a fruitless task. I can hear people today counseling these prophets on their call: “If no one listens to you, why do it? And besides, how are you going to make a living? If no one listens to you, how will you gain what you need to live? There’s not much money on laying on your side for a year, or for being thrown into a well.” However, the point of what we do is not how much money we receive. Nor is it how much approval we got. The only approval that matters is God’s, because he alone is the one who called us to the task.

God also is the one who provides for us. We are the workers of God, therefore God provides the salary. Yes, God provides through his people, and God provides through unexpected avenues. There was the time that a large package of meat fell off of a truck right in front of one of our homeless folks. He called us immediately and we had meat for months. There was the time that my family was fed because someone else had brought in some pizza that he had found in a dumpster (still in a package). There was the man, whom we had never met, who called us offering us food on a regular basis, which now provides quite a bit of the food for our three meals a week. God does tell his people to help us, as when we received our house this last year, which was given by a single donator. But we depend on God for what we need.

God is our boss, our employer. As our employer, he is the one responsible to provide us our wages. We work hard, so we deserve our wages. But if our wages are late, what human being can we call to tell them we need our money, please? No one. We can only call God and have him determine our wages. He does not provide them regularly, nor are they usually monetary. But he provides and our needs are met—whether we ask people or not. He is the strength, the one with the resources. We are here to do his work, dependent on his resources.

I pray that we might never do anything apart from the desire of glorifying God or that of helping the need of another. Every time that I attempt to meet my own needs my own way, seeking my desires or building myself up, it results in depression, self pity, and reduced energy. If I focus on my own needs, I find that I have no ability to meet anyone else's. If I center in on my desires or accomplishments, I find that I can no longer build God's kingdom, or have time to meet the real needs of others around me.

However, if we focus on God's kingdom and in doing his righteousness, then we find that our needs are miraculously met. We no longer need to scurry about, trying to make this happen or that happen. I no longer need to force others to do my will for my purposes in order to meet my needs. Rather, if we focus our attention on seeing God's will accomplished, our wills softly blends into his. And then our will is accomplished— not on our power, but on God's. If we focus our attention on building God's kingdom, instead of accomplishing our own purposes, then our goals become infused with the kingdom of God. Then the kingdom is built, not by our anxious drivenness, but by God's power. If we focus our attention on seeing God's name sanctified, instead of stressing that our needs must be met, then we find that our needs are met. Our daily bread is provided, by God's hand. Our daily warmth is provided, by God's hand. Our daily rest is provided, by God's hand. And if one day our resources are scarce, the next day I will find they are met. If one day we go hungry, the next God provides more than ample for what we need.

This is not just a matter of simplicity of lifestyle, but rather simplicity of focus. We no longer have a list of needs that we want God, the government, our family and our friends to meet. Rather, we have God. And in lifting before him our desire to see his will be done, all is accomplished and more. Our focus is single. We do not have two masters— God and our needs who wage endless war for our hearts. Rather, we give our needs up to God and God alone reigns. Thus, we need no longer fret; we need no longer clamor; we need no longer be weighed down by burdens that seems beyond our control. Rather, we are at peace.

This is our salvation. Our salvation is the peace in our hearts that all our needs we can hand off to God. Our salvation is that God will meet those needs. Our salvation is that God is beholden to us, even as we have covenanted ourselves to him. Our salvation is the wholeness we achieve when we stop listening to the ringing voices in our ears which say, "You need this! You should have that! You must do this!" and listen only to God who says, "All you need I will give you. All you must do is found in my righteousness. All else is wind and shadow. I am the reality. I am the true."

One might say, "That is just the path to poverty." I suppose so, if one looks only by the sight of the current age. But I am confident in this: The next age holds so much more, that we are willing to wait for riches until the next life. God has so much more in store for us than this life can offer. So we must make the choice—poverty in this age (by this world's reasoning) or poverty in the next.

Yet, if our focus is as simple as God and God alone, are we really on the path of poverty? I suppose it depends on whose definition of poverty one uses. If you mean poor in wealth, poor in the noisy, pointless entertainments of this world, poor in the pursuits and stresses of accumulation, poor in this world's power, poor in covetousness, poor in vanity, poor in pursuits that liquefy our minds, poor in the streams of never ending products and false consolations—then we accept that poverty readily. In order to gain that poverty, we also gain the Holy Spirit, we also gain the love of Christ for all men, we also gain peace in our hearts, we also gain a community of givers and lovers, we also gain God who is for us and within us.

Thank you, Father, for all your love for us. We are waiting on you, longing for your provision. Thank you, Lord, that you listen to us and will provide for us to do your work. Thank you for helping us live day to day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Long Term Ministry

Many people, when they speak of a ministry that is truly inspired by God emphasize different things. Some speak of calling, as if all we need to do is hear from God and then everything else will fall into place. Some emphasize sacrifice, recognizing that God’s true work requires the worker to give up all they have for the kingdom. Others emphasize purity, understanding that one must be holy to do God’s holy work. Others emphasize the power of God, because no work of God is accomplished without God’s strength.

All of this is essential, but the recipe of God’s work isn’t complete without faithfulness.

Faithfulness is the stick-to-itiveness that is necessary to do any work completely. It is pursuing God’s calling even when it seems pointless, fruitless and hopeless. I get tired of seeing various fly-by-night ministers come in for a single ministry or even for a year. That doesn’t mean that short-termers don’t have success in their ministry. A one night or one week ministry may make some powerful statements that otherwise couldn’t be said. But if they expect to see people’s lives turned around in a single meeting, or even a year, they are deluding themselves. Let the short termers recognize that the one thing they are not doing is displaying care and real concern for those they are ministering for.

Short termers have the ability to focus on the message, as they should. The long-termers are there to focus on the people.

And people are the building blocks of the kingdom of God, not sermons, nor buildings, nor organizations.