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Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part Two

In Monday's blog post, we shared a bit about how we get project referrals and set guidelines and expectations with homeowners. This is necessary because one of the risks that we face, as mercy ministries, is getting scammed. So how do you put some safeguards in place to minimize this risk and vet the people you serve?

Some ideas that will help, but none are foolproof:

  • Request recommendations from someone that knows them and their situation, e.g. their local church, social worker, hospital staff, senior services agency or even their medical professional.
  • Get their last 3 payroll stubs or Social Security receipts, etc.
  • Make sure they own the house, get copy of utility bills.
  • Take a look at the house, cars, furniture, etc. Do the pieces fit into a familiar pattern of hurt or is something awry?

If you take a volunteer into the wrong house that sends all of the wrong signals, your volunteer may be busy the next time you ask for help.

November 2012 Roof ProjectA word of caution, however. We want to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community. People in some communities have been practicing “survive any way you can” for generations. There are also many who, entirely legitimately, are hurting for reasons beyond their control. We sometimes talk about people hurting for three reasons: their own sin, someone’s sin against them and disasters/situations beyond anyone’s control (See Timothy Keller's excellent Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road for more detail on this). If the latter two cases are the reason, it would be terrible to have God’s resources available but withhold them because you heard about an outright scam by someone else. If my God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (real meaning: God owns everything), then I think He’s more concerned about my heart than being absolutely sure about the people that ask us for help. I’d much rather get scammed than not help one who has been sent by the Lord – it really helps to be listening to God’s Spirit to understand what to do.

It reminds me of a couple of passages of scripture: Matthew 10:16 - "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Deuteronomy 15:11 - " . . . I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’" Matthew 5:16 - "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

It isn’t easy, but it is God’s will that we are the conduit of his grace and mercy.


Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part One

My co-worker Jim and I spoke with a representative of Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta about being available to help those living in homes built by their chapter. We explained that two ways we get referrals are 1) from agencies that have pre-qualified the person needing help, and 2) those that hear about us or find out about us and initiate the contact. #1 is by far our preference because someone else has determined that the family is eligible for help.

Distressed House#2 raises some challenges. The first can be found in me: Tell me that someone has something for nothing and I might just get into the line. The same kind of thing happens with very nice citizens in the community. “Oh, HRM does home repairs for nothing? Well, put me on the list for new exterior paint job, break up and replace my old driveway, repaint all of my rooms with faux marbre columns and a Trompe L'oeil Mediterranean window scene, replace my dark granite countertops with lighter ones, . . . Oh, this is for people who cannot afford to make repairs, often to keep the home from being condemned, or under threat of paying a fine for not keeping the property up?“

A while back, we were at someone’s house when they heard what we do and were more than happy to let us help them until I used “dire circumstances” to describe what we do and he realized that he’d misunderstood.

Here's a real-life example of why we need to have some discernment. About a year and a half ago, we got word, from several sources, about a family that was homeschooling, closely connected to a home school group, and lived next door to someone from my church. The mother was fighting a losing battle with cancer, in and out of the hospital, getting meals brought in by many families, and having respiratory problems due to old carpet in the house. Six months after getting carpet donated and installed by HRM volunteers, we were called by a police detective to find out about what we’d done to help. It seems that the husband and wife had been scamming people for a long time, she was in jail, and there were many people who considered her to be a friend, really angry with her.

So, you want some suggestions on how to vet those you serve and how to balance love and discernment? Come back Friday for Part Two.


Is a Home Repair Team Right for Your Church?

A church's home repair team exists to serve it's own homeowners in need and as an outreach to your community. In both cases, we have found those most needing our services to typically be widows, single mothers, the elderly and disabled. If outreach is a priority for your church, a home repair ministry is an opportunity to share the gospel in Word and deed with these people.

If this sounds like a good idea, the next question becomes "is it right for us and can we do it?" Finding the answers will be helped by sharing what a home repair team is and what it is not.

1) A home repair team is typically not led by staff or leadership (at least, that's been our experience). A home repair team can be viewed as an opportunity to extend your congregation's involvement and outreach. In fact, the guys who run a home repair team can be the people in your church who aren't sure how and where to plug in and serve.

Find your handymen (and women), and the folks your leadership calls when you have a single mom with a repair need, and you've found your candidate to lead you local church's home repair team. We think that these guys exist in many churches.

2) A home repair team is scalable in scope. The size of your church should not be an impediment to starting a team. A simple home repair team can be two guys who help people out occasionally on weekends. In a larger church, or one with a lot of handymen, you can have several projects going on a month.

3) A home repair team does not have to raise a lot of money to fund projects. Your church can certainly choose to fund projects, but we try to either have the materials paid for by the homeowner (where feasible) or donated from local businesses or other non-profits.

Disaster Response4) A home repair ministry is a natural partner to a disaster response/recovery team. If your church participates in disaster recovery projects, a home repair ministry can help your team impact their community all throughout the year. More than likely you've already got the same types of skills on your team and are doing similar types of work. Instead of sending volunteers out a couple times a year, you can keep them busy every month, even weekly, if you have the people for it!

5) Starting a home repair ministry does require some forethought. Fortunately, our ministry and other churches have been through this before. In fact, we've been doing this for many years and learned a lot of good ideas and some not so good ones to avoid.

We've collected that information and made it available to churches at no charge on our website (you can make a suggested donation but it is not required). As we get more churches joining through our website, we desire to build a community that can share and learn with each other.

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