Do you wonder what it would be like to be unemployed, evicted from your home, sleeping under a bridge somewhere and reduced to asking strangers if they could spare a couple of dollars so you could eat?
I don’t wonder about it very long; it’s too awkward, too uncomfortable. But I had a conversation like this on the sidewalk in Puyallup a few days ago. It wasn’t cold, but the clouds were out and the wind was blowing and the lady’s clothes looked a little thin…and she sounded tired when she asked if I could help her eat. We were right in front of a restaurant, but it was closed. So I looked around wondering what the story was, if this was legitimate or if would I be wasting my money on someone’s addiction, when I saw the “Open” sign come on across the parking lot.
So we walked across the lot and I asked, “What’s going on with you? What’s happened?” And she told me. Her husband was in the hospital; he fell 30 feet at work and was having trouble with Labor and Industries. She was evicted because she couldn’t pay the rent, so she’s sleeping in the woods. And as we waited for her food, I asked her if she knew anyone in that area to go talk to…she didn’t. So I asked her to find a church and ask them for a food bank, a shelter number, a ministry she could go to for help. And the whole time I was thinking this is why we support Plateau Outreach Ministries here in Enumclaw, because these times are hard and there are many people who have no control over the circumstances that have left them in need.
I have found it difficult at times to decide how to help people I run into because sometimes I am certain what people ask for is not what they need. A person with an addiction issue may want money to stave off the pain of withdrawal, but I don’t believe feeding an addiction is actually helpful. A person facing eviction may just want money to catch up the rent, but if the real issue is careless spending and lack of money management then just paying the rent doesn’t actually help, it just postpones the problem another month. A hungry person may only want food, but if the issue is a refusal to work (rather than loss of opportunity to work or disability) then just handing over food only helps perpetuate a self-damaging behavior. And it takes great effort, diligent observation and genuine concern for others to look for more than the easy fix of the surface issue.
I’m not good at such work, but I am very thankful for the people who are, who invest the time in people’s lives to find a way to truly help. And I think it matters that all of us who claim the name of Christ should genuinely care for the people around us because that is what Jesus did. And didn’t Jesus say that when we, as followers of Jesus, become fully trained we will be like him? (Luke 7:40).