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Archive for August, 2013

Avoiding the Dependency Trap

I’ve been involved in mercy ministry for many years and feel that a home repair ministry is one of the most helpful ministries out there. Following is a bit of my heart about that. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, as I am, in your support of the ministry.

I remember serving in a soup kitchen and feeling as though I wasn’t helping much. The Lord put a high value on feeding the hungry (Matt 25: 31-46), so a soup kitchen is necessary, but addressing the immediate need isn’t always enough. My sense of falling short came because feeding/clothing, etc. often doesn’t move a person beyond needing someone to provide tomorrow’s soup.

TrainingMinistries that teach people skills to improve their current situation, such as job training, are classified as a developmental. But even that has sometimes left me feeling unsatisfied. My training is that I should aspire to become an advocate for “the poor,” working to change laws that hold people in the chains of oppression. So I can always find things to make me feel guilty about ministry, whether from biblical teaching or just my personality problems (of which there are many!). Ministries of mercy can be very complicated, even downright messy.

The good news (not specifically the Gospel, this time) is that a home repair ministry is in a unique spot. First, many of the people we serve are in situations where a repair is not likely to create a recurring dependency - an immediate need gets addressed and is unlikely to happen again soon after. On top of that, the situations we encounter seldom are due to a homeowner’s vice (unless neglect due to a lack of income is a vice) but all things are in decay. We help address the problem or needed change and the person gets on with her life. For example, a team builds a handicap ramp and the homeowner can now get in and out of the house. Good to go. Or an old roof is replaced with one that will outlive the owner and the structure of the house is protected.

Building a rampDevelopmental training of home owners to do home repairs isn’t often helpful, though tips on maintenance can be. Training an elderly diabetic amputee about wheelchair ramp construction isn’t likely to be useful to him. As for political advocacy, apart from legislation against people aging and homes decaying, there’s not much to do apart from more government funding of unlimited needs from limited resources.

In the last couple few years, several books have been written by people who have extensive experience working with “the poor”. Just hearing the titles of the books makes me stop and think: When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, and Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton. To a simple person like me who likes to address problems wearing a tool belt, while helping others to do the same, all of that knowledge tends to be “bad news” – making efforts to help people even more complicated and messy.

But now, let me take you back to the “good news”: The issues raised in these books generally don’t apply to our ministry. The people we serve face some very difficult situations, but their problems are not usually brought on by laziness or chronic dependency. While we can’t fix all of their difficulties, we can keep homes from becoming a toxic problem that hurts!

Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if a project were followed up by relational people who visit the homeowner (who didn’t learn to fix the roof) and bring some of our monthly mailing envelopes to stuff, together, while talking about the love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus (the BEST NEWS of all). Dependency on the Savior is exactly where He wants us! I Peter 5:7 — "...casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you." If you have good relational, evangelistic skills, and live in the Atlanta area (even if you don’t have tool skills), we can use you. Please contact me and we’ll plug you in.


Advocacy – the Power of Community Connections

In a service ministry, it really is all about relationships. Human connections help us find homeowners in need, present partnership opportunities at other non-profits and build partnership opportunities with companies looking to make an impact in the neighborhood. In essence, they help us build service value networks.

Building these networks presents opportunities to meet needs, and that is perhaps best illustrated when we are able to advocate on behalf of a homeowner. In our ministry context of home repair, advocacy typically refers to helping someone who has an urgent need connect with a vital community resource, resulting in the homeowner’s crisis being resolved, possibly at low or no cost.

Here are a couple recent real-life example to show you how this all works.

We have relationships with many local non-profit organizations. When we run across a client who has a need we can’t meet, we can pass them along to another non-profit that can help meet their need. That also happens in reverse.

A couple days ago, we got a call from an elderly lady whose air conditioner conked out. She was referred to us by another agency. After speaking with her further and understanding her need, we were able to connect a local heating and air company that has a huge heart and has worked with us in the past.

They were able to go out, look at her air conditioner, and fix it for her. They donated the repairs to her. Without these community connections, we would not have been able to help her and meet her need.

We encountered a similar need in December of 2011 when we got a call from a widow whose heater stopped working. She called us to ask what to do. She had called an HVAC company, and after we talked with them, they graciously marked her bill down to cost. We called another non-profit connection that was able to pay the remainder.


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