Our community is a wonderful place to live. The people are friendly and helpful; there are many, many churches to join for worship; and we have a diversity of helping agencies that aid our disadvantaged neighbors. People here are compassionate and caring — this is one of the many benefits of living in the Yampa Valley.
Love INC’s mission is to mobilize churches to help their needy neighbors, but part of the larger mission is to help in ways that promote effective transformation. In other words, we want to help not just with emergency handouts, but also in ways that give a hand up to our neighbors. I attended a seminar last fall where we focused our discussions on helping others. The book on which we based most of our seminar work that day was “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It),” written by Robert Lupton (2012). He suggests that we evaluate our current needs-based ministries to be sure that our giving is: a) not supporting an unhealthy lifestyle of living in poverty, b) designed in a way that we are not stripping dignity from our neighbors, c) not just feeding our egos by participating in a “feel-good” ministry but making sure we are trying to create ways to establish relationships with our neighbors, and d) helping us create ways to facilitate our ability to become involved with our neighbors in order to truly help them out of the life situation they are in by giving them help with bigger needs like housing, education or other support to help them get on their feet again. These are points that we must consider when evaluating our attempts to help.
Love INC mobilizes and organizes churches with this in mind, offering help with housing, food and more. When volunteers are asked to help, we encourage them to make a personal connection with their needy neighbor. Volunteers are urged to take time and chat with the family they are serving and get to know them some and listen to their story. Volunteers can offer some suggestions from their own life experiences that may help others through a situation, and they can offer to pray with them and invite them to be part of a church family. In a continuing effort to offer transformational help, budget classes and cooking classes (Cooking on a Budget) are offered through Love INC, too.
Helping and showing compassion is a strength that our community has. What a wonderful gift God has given us that we want to do this, and we do it well. As we continue to reach out to minister to our needy neighbors, we need to evaluate what we are doing and consider following some of the tips Lupton has given. Truly helping our neighbors in love may involve more than just handing out food or money — which is important and is needed because emergencies do occur. Helping in love also requires getting involved and assisting our neighbors by providing help with some of the steps to break the cycle of poverty in which they may be trapped.