If it alliterates it must be true, right? As we talk about organizing compassion for the poor, as we begin to pray that God would cause us to have compassion on the less fortunate, we are faced with the continued question of how we are to care for those who live elsewhere than we do. I care for my neighbor, but what do I do when my neighbor is not poor and the poor are not my neighbor? Simple, move!
It’s right there in Matthew 28:19…Go! In fact, in Greek, not only is the “Go!” a command, it’s also done simultaneous with making disciples–“As you go…” Of course, American Christianity has chosen “come and be discipled” over “go and make disciples,” but that is an issue for another post. But the same root cause underlies both–we are content to wait for the opportunity to disciple or to help the poor to move in next door. And by next door, I mean right next door! The idea of going fifteen miles to get into an area where the poor are is simply too much effort for most people.
In order to really help the poor, we have to be present in their lives and present in their communities. In some cases, this means moving back into those communities that have become devoid of caring people through urban flight. One of the problems with forced compassion or redistributed entitlement of wealth is that in many cases as the poor become unpoor, they too flee to the suburbs, leaving more poor behind them without a caring presence. If we truly cared, we would put our money where our mouth is and move into the communities that need help, being part of the solution. Throwing money into these areas from out in the suburbs simply won’t help. These people need compassion, not a handout.
But presence doesn’t simply mean moving, although that is a great option. Perhaps it means choosing to shop at stores in that area, building relationships with clerks. It may mean getting out of my car when I buy gas so I can talk to the clerk inside rather than just swiping my card at the machine. I may eat at restaurants in those areas, participate in programs in those areas, and simply be a presence.
Sound difficult, sound impossible? I grew up in Green Bay Wisconsin, where one of the deacons at my church had a heart for mercy ministry. This manifested itself in such a way that if anyone needed help moving, whether from the church or not, this deacon would get a truck and organize a team. So here they were at a random house in a poorer neighborhood of Green Bay, helping someone move who had simply called in for help. A passerby saw what was going on and approached the deacon and said “Hey, are you the church guys who help people move?” No advertisement, no uniforms, no signage, but people knew. How? Presence. They were known in the community, their compassion was known in the community because they were present. And…they all lived in the ‘suburbs’ but they were still present in the community.
Dan is right…it starts with prayer, but prayer must lead to action, neighboring not just with those who become neighbors, but becoming neighbors with those we want to help by being present.