Sometimes, I really don’t want to participate in community outreach events. I know that’s not the Christian thing to say but it’s true (stop being judgey). It’s not that I have a problem with reaching out to underserved people and communities. I actually rather enjoy meeting different people and getting to know them. No, my challenge is the overwhelming feeling I get when I realize the enormity of the social issue(s) surrounding that underserved population. Contemplating the complex sociopolitical variables and systematic historical injustices behind their issues often leads me to feel virtually paralyzed.
I was on the brink of such a paralysis during a outreach event with my church last year. We were partnering with an organization to supply and disseminate clothes and toiletries to the homeless in our community. I knew this was a worthwhile endeavor but in the days before the event my head was swimming with the alarming statistics of homeless families and fatality rates among their children. I began to hear that familiar voice of social issue paralysis whispering, “What difference is this event going to make?”. But I prayed and asked God to give me His ears, His eyes, and His heart during the event.
I arrived a little late at the facility. This meant all the labor jobs were taken; jobs like sorting, arranging, and disseminating supplies. That left only one job, meet and greet. As I said, I love to meet and learn about people but it does tend to accelerate the social issue paralysis. Nevertheless, I said a quick prayer and scanned the area. I saw a bench with a few ladies and went over to try to strike up a conversation. It didn’t take long before I was chatting with a young lady who I will refer to as ‘Kim’ (not her real name). Kim shared that she had been in and out of shelters for a long time and was now living in a tent in the woods. The changeable weather and incidents of theft had been difficult to manage. But things were about to get even more complicated because she recently found out she was pregnant. I could see she was deeply conflicted with the natural response to be happy about a baby and the worry about how to take care of it under her present circumstances.
Our conversation was briefly interrupted by one of Kim’s acquaintances informing her that there were lots of baby clothes still being given out and that she should get in line. I’ll never forget Kim’s sharp response, “What difference are the clothes going to make when there’s no place to keep the baby?”
I was overcome, empathizing with her desperation and exasperation. Usually, this is where paralysis sets it but something different happened this time. I told Kim that if she wanted it, I was willing to help her in her search for a place to stay. She was receptive to my offer but I could tell she was doubtful of my ability to find anything she hadn’t already tried. I was feeling the same doubt.
Nevertheless, the next day, when I found that all my afternoon conference calls had been miraculously cancelled, I began researching shelters and housing programs for pregnant women. I came across a couple but when I texted the info to Kim I learned she was already on the very long waiting list for all of them. I kept researching and making calls. Sadly, there were many options Kim didn’t qualify for because she wasn’t a drug addict. You read correctly. There were programs with shelter availability that would not take her in because she had no drugs in her system. She would literally have to go get high to apply. I was hysterical with outrage.
My research was just starting to dry up when I came across a facility called Room at the Inn. How appropriate, right? But it was in another county. I wasn’t sure if they would even take her or how she would get there. And it was much smaller than the other facilities in my city. The odds seemed low that they would have availability. I called anyway. I spoke to a nice woman who listened to my story and took my information for the Director to call me back.
I immediately returned to my search results, seeing if there was something I missed, when my phone began to ring. It had only been a few minutes. Couldn’t have been a call back already, right? I picked up the phone. It was the Director from Room at the Inn calling to inform me….they had room.
A series of of quick and miraculous events transpired. Kim needed to fax a recent exam report from a obstetrician. She just so happened to have already had an appointment scheduled for the following day at a clinic and the doctor was happy to send the report. She had to complete an interview, which she completed the same day. And then there was the matter of getting her to the facility. It just so happened the Director was coming to town for a meeting in a few days and offered to take Kim back with him.
So what difference did all this make?
Fast forward to the present. Kim gave birth to a beautiful baby and both of them are living in temporary housing for the next year. She was able to begin taking classes and has only one left before she takes the GED exam. The program she is in currently comes with a job training series so she will be able to put her new diploma to good use.
I learned a great lesson from all this. To put it simply, do the good that you can do and don’t worry about the outcome. Too often, I compared the simple, small good thing I could do for someone the size of the overall need. And, to my shame, I allowed this comparison to snuff out some opportunities to use my blessings to bless someone else. How serious does God take this? I’ll conclude with a Word from God in James 4:17 (NIV):
Words for Syncing
Sync a little deeper
What social issues/injustices seem overwhelming to you?
Which underserved or marginalized group of people has God given you a heart for?
How can you be the difference in someone’s life starting this week?
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