I think it was Shane Claiborne who said, (I’m paraphrasing here) one of the biggest problems we have here in the U.S. is that Christians don’t know the poor. It’s not that they don’t care about them, but that they don’t know them. Knowing people changes our perspective and can teach us a lot.
- Offer a Team of Encouragers – I have offered to surround someone in need with a team of encouragers to meet with them weekly. We develop a contract of trust and commit to one another. We require honesty and respect and the person we are helping is the leader of the group. We assist that person with encouragement and developing a plan to meet their own goals. The person makes the goals and we help give ideas and commit to praying and encouraging them. This takes a team of people and can feel exhausting emotionally or just one or two people to walk with someone.
- Create a contract for clear boundaries and communication. If you decide to get deeply involved, create a contract together of what each person will do. I’m glad to share an example of such a contract with anyone who contacts me. We offer free meals at our church family supper once a week for example. Decide who is responsible with what and be sure everyone on the team feels empowered to do their part. Be clear about what would break the contract. Talk about these and decide which ones need to go in writing.
- Goals should be made by that person, not by us. We should not push our opinions of what we think this person needs to do onto them. That would be paternalistic. They should make their own goals and we can support them and encourage them along the way. Goals can be included as a part of the contract or separately. Just asking, “What are your life goals?” and “How can I help you achieve your goals?” over a meal can be empowering and offer hope to someone. Many people in desperate situations have never or rarely been asked these questions.
- Help Through Empowerment. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how our trying to “help” can actually further hurt people. Be sure you’re not creating categories of “helper and helpee.” Be creative in doing tasks together equally, together and in a way that empowers both people in the relationship. Ask yourself if what you’re doing would feel degrading if someone did that for you.
- Help People Earn Everything. What we earn we appreciate. Earning boosts self-esteem. In a tutoring program we help students earn everything. They feel so proud of themselves when they earn things and meet their own goals. This paves the way for them to be more successful in greater things. For example, students earn a large snack bag if they complete all their homework and behave well. Very rarely do we have to send someone away because the children love these snack bags! Some of these students come from generational poverty, so starting to teach them work and effort produce something they earn gives them a greater chance at savoring other things to earn in life.
- Help People Find a Way to Give Back. This is essential for building self-esteem. Sometimes people who have nothing need help realizing they do have something. They have time and they have their willingness. Finding a good volunteer job can bring hope, connect someone to a good group of people and might can even become a paid job. Volunteering gives back through a supervisor being able to provide a good reference for someone. We all have something we can give no matter who we are! Help others by encouraging them to serve too. Offer to serve with them their first time.
If you decide to help someone, please don’t do it alone. Recruit a group to help you. Also, please remember you’re probably meeting with a person that’s hurting. Not being involved for the long haul can hurt them further. Commit to this person and keep moving even when they fail. If they fail and are honest about it, keep marching! We helped one woman from homelessness to stability over a year and a half. She responded to the Gospel and is now stable. This process can take longer or less time depending on the situation. May God bless all our efforts to reach out!