I hope you enjoy an article from a guest writer. Michael Bouchard is a children’s pastor in the Detroit area. He is a friend of a friend. I really enjoyed his take on helping the poor. I hope you enjoy it also. It was pretty bold on his part to love others by literally moving into a trailer park when he didn’t have to out of necessity.
I had only been living in the trailer park for about five months, and unexpected visitors were still uncommon, so I was surprised when I heard the doorbell sound off in the middle of the day.
I opened my front door and saw a neighborhood kid waiting on my porch. I recognized him from the weekly tutoring program we were running out of my living room on Tuesdays. He was a regular, and I was getting to know his family well, but this was the first time he had ever knocked on my door outside of tutoring day.
“What’s up, dude?” I asked him.
His initial courage deflated, betraying his tough-guy mohawk and swagger. He turned his gaze to his toe as he softly kicked the green, putt-putt-golf carpet that covered my porch.
“Um, it’s hot out,” he said, maintaining his view of his frayed sneaker.
“Yep, it sure is!” I glanced at the bald eagle thermometer that the last owner of my house had left behind; just over 100 degrees, and it was barely noon. I didn’t know what the boy wanted, so I gave him a few seconds to pull his thoughts together. However, his shyness won out and he filled that space with only silence. So I prodded, “Did you need something?”
“Well, um, it’s hot. And I’m thirsty. And I was wondering, do you have anything to drink?” With his question, he shifted his eyes back up to catch mine, and then added, “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.”
I hadn’t been shopping in awhile, but I always kept a jug of spring water in the fridge. We weren’t supposed to drink the tap water because of frequent line breaks and bacterial contamination.
“First off, you’re never a bother to me.” I reassured, “And second, all I have is some water. Is that ok?”
“Is it cold?” he asked.
“Cold enough for a polar bear. But I’ll put some ice in it, too. Wait right here.”
I trekked to the kitchen and filled a solo cup with refrigerated Meijer spring water, then returned and placed the cup in his dirty hands. He smiled and thanked me. I told him I was glad he stopped by, and if he ever needed anything again, all he had to do was ask. His freckled smile grew wider and his eyes brightened as he thanked me again. He took a sip, then turned and left, cautiously walking down the steps so he wouldn’t spill his water.
As I watched him go, the words of Jesus echoed in my head:“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
This story is true.
Since that visit this spring, my home life has changed.
As has my shopping list.
For the first time in 28 years, I am beginning to understand the power of those words of Jesus in a whole new depth.
I grew up in church from day one, but in complete honesty, the first time I heard a pastor teach on Jesus’ call to reach “the least of these,”I was in my mid-20’s. Sad fact.
And on the few occasions that “helping the poor” was talked about when I was a child and teenager in Sunday school, it was always accompanied with a slew of stipulations and conditions. Then we would be reminded of the time Jesus told his disciples that the poor would always be around us, which somehow supposedly let us off the hook from having to do anything about it. Then if any of us still had concerns about helping the poor, we would be asked questions that were intended to seal the deal about not needing to regularly participate.
What if they come back again?
What if they’re still thirsty next week?
What if they’re still hungry?
What if they’re still poor?
What if they’re still jobless?
What if they’re still sick?
What if they outgrow their shoes?
The general idea was that since people in need were always going to be there, it didn’t matter much how frequently we helped. Which often translated into the unspoken mindsets of “it doesn’t matter if you help at all”and “it’s more important to tell people they’re going to Hell than it is to begin a relationship by giving them a loaf of bread.”
Now, I believe to the very bottom of my heart that my teachers meant well. My assumption is that they were just teaching what was taught to them when they were kids, by people who equally meant well.
I assume this, because there was also a time that I taught this to kids as well, and I know for a fact that I meant it well then.
I’m starting to understand their rationale more now, and I see it for what I think it truly is: a well-intended fear.
Because since the day that I gave out the water, I literally went from having one visitor a month to having multiple visitors daily, with ALL sorts of needs. After almost 5 months of handing out koolaid, bandaids, freeze pops, bikes, shoes, diapers, appliances, and canned goods, I get why some Christians are scared to start helping people in need.
A cup of cold water can be dangerous.
Jesus was brilliant in his “least of these” decree, because the items he chose as examples of things to give were purposely simple:
Water (I was thirsty).
Leftovers (I was hungry).
Hand-me-downs (I was naked).
Visits to the marginalized (I was lonely in prison)
These aren’t grand gestures. They aren’t newsworthy.
They’re every day things that we have extra of.
There is something great and scary about giving a cup of cold water to someone who’s thirsty. If you do it even once, you start caring for that person. From the moment you place a condensation-covered solo cup in their hands, something connects their heart to yours.
Looking back, I see that my teachers’ questions were valid, because the list of needs in my park DOESN’T go away. In fact, it gets longer as more people add to it.
And yes, some of them are going to be thirsty again tomorrow.
Some of them are going to be hungry again next week.
Some of them will outgrow their shoes next month.
Some of them will still be jobless next spring.
Some of them will still be disabled next year.
But does the mere fact that they will still have needs tomorrow give me reason to ignore? I hope not, because I'm 28, I have a great job, a great family, a solid community of friends, and yet I still have needs (I don't know anyone who doesn't, for that matter). And I would hate to think that my needs weren't worth being met simply because they weren't glamorous enough.
Meeting people's needs, giving a cup of cold water... it's dangerous.
But the never-ending list isn’t what’s dangerous.
Here’s what is truly dangerous, (and simply brilliant):
When you start giving something as simple as cold water, you might find yourself actually WANTING that person to come back again.
From there, it’s a slippery slope of caring. Because one day, you might find yourself praying for those people.
One day, you might change your shopping list to help meet theirs.
One day, you might invite them over for dinner.
One day, you might offer to give them a ride to church.
One day, you might help them make a resume.
One day, you might teach them about budgets. And debt.
One day, you might help them learn to read.
One day, you might buy them a new sweater instead of you.
One day, you might invite your friends to join you.
And finally one day, you might have the courage to no longer look at them as statistics, and instead see them as Jesus does: individual people who are in need of Love without agenda, Love without conditions, just as much as you are.
And on THAT day
You can look back and remember…
That it all started with a cup of cold water.
Find more from Michael here: http://mrmikl.blogspot.com