Who Should We Serve - Part 2
In Part 1 of this blog post (see Monday 5/21) we discussed two methods that your mercy ministry or home repairs ministry can use to choose who you will serve. Today's post will look at a third, and more difficult, way to choose which projects to take and which people to serve.
C. Method 3 - Flying by the seat of your pants (with some basics guidelines and the Lord’s leading).
This is pretty difficult when you have several people making decisions with different levels of empathy for hurting people or levels of “street smarts” with tricky scammers.
Following are some thoughts on why some of these suggestions exist and examples where HRM has felt it necessary to be overridden. First, we owe those who financially support the ministry to take reasonable precautions to vet the person being helped. Your church Elders, Deacons, community outreach pastor, etc. may set the rules for you, or you may make a commitment to financial donors to “guarantee” certain guidelines. However, we found:
- The age requirement tends to be arbitrary, often based on what many other agencies use. We have helped younger people when they have a circumstance, such as disability, or care of an elderly parent, or having custody of grandchildren, etc.
- Many people mention that they are disabled with initial phone calls but it often isn’t obvious when we do a site survey. We don’t want to ask for a note from the doctor but still want to be careful. As detailed below, it is a lot easier to rely on another person’s clearer knowledge of the client than when you get on Senior’s Help Lists, with people calling you directly.
- Ownership is important because landlords have been known to raise the rent on people who received help in a property. It is also illegal to work on a landlord’s house without permission and it is his obligation to keep the property livable. We have helped renters with their own things, e.g. furniture repairs or a minor appliance repair.
- We can use government poverty numbers for income requirements and ask for last 2 pay stubs, etc. However, at HRM, we’d rather get a referral from another nonprofit or agency than get into that part of someone’s life. Dignity is very important to people getting help. Dignity means a lot. Remember the 70’s song, “We Are One in the Spirit”? Of course that was before my time. . . It includes the lines: “We will work with each other, We will work side by side. And we'll guard each man's dignity And save each man's pride. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” That comes from John 13:35 (ESV), “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Loving God first, and loving neighbor as self has many facets to it, including dignified ways to lovingly help people.
- Just as we don’t expect a church that is able to care for its own members to call our church to help, able families are expected to care for their own. But, just as we’re willing to help a church help its own, HRM commends teams who help families to help their own when it is too big to handle by themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes Grandma makes a commitment that the ‘grands’ will be there and when the volunteers arrive, and the family isn’t, we’ve never walked away. At least try to get them involved.
- Essential repairs/maintenance only. We don’t generally put tile in bathrooms because someone wants to replace the sheet vinyl. Nor do we repaint for aesthetic reasons, though we will if walls are filthy and it will lift someone’s outlook. Who knows whether love demonstrated with a paint brush might open a heart to the Gospel. Deteriorated outside paint is a completely different issue, obviously.
- As mentioned before, churches take care of their own. However, we’ve never shied away from calling a church to let them know a member has contacted us about needing help, and “would you like some help to address the situation?” They might develop a team because we took the time to help, then our work is multiplied in the community.
- Never put volunteers in the situation where they feel like their time is not being used well. If there are extenuating circumstances that go beyond appearances, let them know why you chose to take on the project. As a volunteers coordinator, it is not easy to get volunteers when they are needed, so don’t let them think, “Boy, the next time he calls, I’m busy!”
Theological thought: Murphy’s Law is actually a worldly way of describing the Fall in Genesis. When you plant wheat, you grow weeds. It seems like it is always, “We have 130 middle-schoolers that want to serve on Saturday, when you only have projects that require skilled people, and when you need a lot of anyone’s help, everyone is busy. Right? Keep the volunteers happy! They are God’s valuable provision for you, Coordinator.
As mentioned, we need some spiritual discernment in dealing with hurting people. Tell the person you would like to pray with them, after hearing their story, ask that God would provide for the need, and listen very carefully for the Still Small Voice of the Spirit of God. And NEVER PROMISE WHAT YOU CANNOT DELIVER. Getting excited about helping doesn’t mean you can deliver. A little “thinking out loud” goes a very short distance before becoming a commitment in a hurting person’s ears.
So be bold, but be careful. Go with God.
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