Guidelines for Helping Others Part 3: Deeply Involved Over the Long Haul

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

Guidelines for Helping Others Part 2: Do’s and Don’ts

Once I become more deeply involved in helping people I have discovered these do’s and don’ts to be helpful and I hope they can help you too.  These principles are especially helpful when we are involved helping family members and those we already know and have a relationship with as well.  Creating boundaries for us with loved ones is extra challenging because we might have to undo some of what we have done.

  1. Never do for someone what they can do for themselves. It’s ok to do something with someone, but not “for” them.  It’s degrading to make a phone call for someone for example when they’re perfectly able to do that on their own.  It’s also degrading to treat people like they cannot do anything.
  2. Always deepen their community and yours. I’ve learned that many people who beg have no positive community in their lives.  Most don’t even know any successful people so they are operating out of what they know.  When someone approaches us it’s an opportunity to learn from that person’s life and to help connect them to a positive group that can empower them to make progress.
  3. Get rid of your “God Complex.” A God complex is a paternalistic attitude that I know it all and I’m here to teach and lead this person in the way I think is right for them.  The Bible is clear that we are no better than the person asking us for money.  If in my mind I’m thinking I’m better than this person or if I think I have great skills and I can tell this person what to do, I’ve ruined any chance of having a transformational relationship with them.  If I’m thinking about them in a degrading way and I need to repent of this attitude.  I can learn from this person’s story and share my own story with them and God can do amazing things when I humble myself and love someone I just met.
  4. Realize we are all lacking.  I have things I lack too. The richest person in the world still has issues in their life.  We all lack something and we all have weaknesses.  Share what you’re lacking with a person experiencing financial poverty and you might discover that person can help you in your own weaknesses whether it be that you lack forgiveness, good health, intimacy or any other thing.  God has a way of connecting us all together towards healing.
  5. Beware of “feelings.” Many have shared with me how good they feel while on a mission trip that they are helping someone or doing something significant.  This is a self-serving, narcissistic reason to go on mission or help someone.  Sometimes the very thing we feel like doing is the thing that can cause the most damage to someone else.  As Christians we go on mission to serve people so we can share the Gospel message, not so we can “feel good” about ourselves.  That would be in essence using people so we can have a good feeling.

In part three I’ll share a wonderful strategy we have utilized to help people who consider themselves at rock bottom.  This is a long process but it can work!  Stay tuned for Part 3!


Guidelines for Helping Others: Being Approached by a Beggar Part 1

“Do I know you?”  “What church do you go to?”  “Maybe that’s where I know you from?”  My friend responded saying she attended First Baptist and the conversation ensued in the aisle of a dollar store. The man then told her his car needed repair and asked her to buy him a certain belt for his car that he needed.  It only cost $17.99.

These situations are uncomfortable for us.  Random people in our communities reach out to us for money.  Of course Christians who take their faith seriously genuinely care about people in need, so how do we make the best decisions in these situations?  If we say no, we worry we might be putting our personal safety at risk.  We also worry we might be contributing to an addiction.  If my friend purchased a belt for this man he could easily return it and use the money for something else.  How he will pay for his vehicle to be repaired if he cannot afford $17.99 for a belt?  Or maybe, this isn’t really about a belt at all? How are we to trust what a stranger that we just met tells us?  How do we avoid being scammed as scamming is all over the place in our society today?  What’s the best thing to do in these situations?  We all want to obey God by caring for people.  What’s the best course of action?  These situations require us to think fast on our feet as we don’t ever feel prepared for something like this.

Here are some principles I seem to operate from in these situations:

  1. I never give cash. I never give cash because I don’t want to be a part of enabling someone in an addiction.  Many people who approach others for money struggle with substance abuse and I don’t believe it’s the best choice to hand cash.  We cannot truly know what the situation is in just one encounter with someone.
  2. Listen with compassion. Jesus had compassion and we need to learn to be compassionate and less judgmental in these situations.  Listen and find something they are sharing that you can apply in number 3 below.
  3. Offer to pray for this person right then and there. Most people appreciate a prayer and praying over someone in the moment they are reaching out for a need can open the door the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s life.  Many people are brought to tears when I pray for them in the moment.  Anyone reaching out for money has needs and  generally will share them.
  4. Feed someone and share a conversation together. If the person indicates they need money for food, sometimes I offer to go to a nearby restaurant and share a meal with them over conversation where you have the opportunity to get more deeply involved. Many people have declined my offer.  In that situation I know they’re not really hungry and they just want cash.  I never offer food without building a relationship with that person.  See # 6 for more on this.
  5. Assess needs and refer accordingly. I’m glad to assess the situation and refer someone to a local agency to help with their needs.  These agencies deal with this all the time and have records of needs and can assess much better than I can in a cold turkey situation. We have a tremendous amount of organizations that meet many kinds of needs in our community.  Know these organizations well and refer people as you have conversations and learn about needs.
  6. Offer transportation help to a local agency where they can get the help they need. As a woman I never do this if I’m alone.  If I’m with someone I ask them if it would be ok to transport someone to an organization where they can get help and we proceed from there.  I certainly am dependent on discernment for this one.  If I’m feeling led to do this I do it.  If not, I don’t.

My friend did not buy this man a belt and I’m glad she didn’t.  The way he approached her asking personal questions trying to make a connection probably indicates he has done this many times before.    Asking for cash is an art form and a craft that can be perfected.  Genuinely help people, but let’s not get scammed into contributing to someone’s addiction.  When we’re able to engage someone we cannot stop there.  Be on the lookout for part 2 and 3 about how to take these relationships into a positive healing community experience.  Let’s not grow weary of doing good and press on together!


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