People at Cornerstone UMC have a heart for missions. Our “Angel Tree” that gets put up this time of year with names of children and their Christmas list is so popular that all the names are taken within 30 minutes (we’ve had to start only putting half the names on the tree for the first service otherwise the second service would not get to participate). I had one subsidized housing complex call me about a family with young children whose power had gotten turned off because the mom had not gotten her child support payments for several months. Her bill was paid within an hour.
Their hearts also extend to the ends of the earth. They are a Church of Excellence in Mission (a UMC designation) and have a wide portfolio that extends to helping people in Kentucky each year as well as a yearly mission trip to Honduras. These ministries are supported by the entire church.
Yet as much as they give and serve, they have encountered times when their generosity has been abused. Last Easter we had a woman with a baby standing outside our door asking for money for diapers and baby food. She probably got $200 from congregation members before another member who works for the sheriff’s office verified that this woman was part of an organized scam. The scam had been highlighted in the local paper because they had gained millions of dollars begging in the Atlanta metro area.
Stories like these might have a tendency to frustrate our efforts but it helped us instead. We saw it as an opportunity to remind our members that we donate to One Roof (a local ecumenical non-profit that vets and aids the local community). We reminded them that we refer people to this partner organization so that they can get help there. If there is more of an immediate need, we are able to pay for gas directly or purchase food/diapers directly. More importantly we talked about knowing our neighbor – not just loving by giving to our neighbor. The same woman came back last month. I was able to talk to her and try to get to know her. She was resistant. She demanded gift cards or money for her children. When I offered to take her to the store, she refused. I told her that if she were in danger or needed help getting out of an abusive organization we could try and help her. She left.
This is just one example of being with someone in need. I’ve got other “neater” examples but most experiences are “messy” like this one. I don’t know her needs because I don’t know her. But I have hope that my attempt to know her was the right thing to do.
Encounters with others are what shape us. I’ll never forget her face or her determination. Giving money makes us feel good and changes us as well but being with our neighbor helps us to see with new eyes. I wonder what, if anything, she remembers about me? Does she know we cared enough to say no?
Hope that poverty will be eliminated does not start with faith in a non-profit or faith in people to give and serve. Hope starts with our faith in Jesus and his transforming love and power. Like this picture may we always be willing to carve room out of our hearts for God to work wonders. It may be messy and it certainly takes time but in the end it is beautiful!
Until Everyone Hears,