11.08.2009

The Poor

What is our duty to the poor, living here in Canada?
I was involved in outreach to homeless people for about 8 years in a semi-official capacity (weekly, name signed up-background check) with the Union Gospel Mission. One of those years, I led a group of 100 University students. Other times, I was going because of the girls I knew in high school. Whatever the motivation, I had the chance to speak with hundreds of homeless people, sometimes just one time, sometimes I knew the same people for years. I know a woman who left her life of prostitution and alchoholism to follow Christ. She has maintained that path.
In Canada, there are so many social safety nets, what is our role as the church? It is a very hard thing to be hungry in Canada, and also hard to be without clothes and food. I think Ghandi said that it is violence to give a man who can work a piece of bread that he didn't earn. I have spoken to people who beg, and they have said that they don't want to work. I have offered food, and they reject it and ask for change.
I don't want to enable laziness, and therefore when doing ministry to the poor, I think it requires a great deal of effort and commitment.
I almost dropped out of my undergrad degree to live downtown with the homeless and destitute. Instead I finished my degree and stopped being involved with outreach.
In Canada, you can't starve.

14 comments:

matushkadonna said...

What do you think of food banks, David? I always feel that at least if parents are not being responsible (and I wouldn't assume they aren't, times are hard and life is expensive) at least the food bank provides some kind of food for kids growing up in poorer homes. These people aren't the poorest of the poor, won't starve or freeze, but the kids could use some help. But I don't have your extensive experience and knowledge-- would like to know what you think.

pasivirta said...

I think food banks are kind of what I am talking about. I think they are a healthy way to help deal with genuine hunger that doesn't always come from laziness. The Bible talks about taking care of widows and orphans. I think single moms, or moms who are in bad situations where dad drinks the money away etc, are our current economic equivalent to widows. So you have the food bank, you have people who are in relationship with each other, who need help and can help each other (people within the church maybe)

I lost my train of thought.
What I think I don't like is the short term, anonymous version, whereby those who choose to milk the system are enabled to continue. Which is (I think) seen in relationship. When you are there regularly, you can tell why people are needy, rather, if they are needy. I guess its a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that I would be able to judge that, but, after a while I did come to that conclusion.
All that to say, I think food banks are a good part of the social safety net.

Melissini Zoe said...

I would respectfully disagree almost 100% with you on that one. Matthew 25:41-46 comes to mind. I would say that this mentality that you have is something that many of the church fathers preached against. The people that tend to suffer the most in society are the people of low income that live in an overpriced city that even you want to leave because of the job situation, and how difficult it is to find a job that pays decently. t. The difficult thing about being a Christian is that one MUST love the poor, despite the fact that some are lazy and choose the lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with being jaded, but there is a difference between being cynical and being callous.
And I also want to add that there ARE lots of programs for people out there. Yet there are lots of people that just fall through the cracks. And you can't condemn the people that fall through the cracks just because you came across some people that were lazy in your lifetime. Sorry, but your opinion comes across as narrow minded and typical of the general public that is too busy being involved with their own life to give a damn about someone else. It is no surprise to me that there is little to no orthodox outreach programs out there, because people are too busy feeding a child in a third world country, but can't be bothered to help their fellow man in their own city. Sure, it's fine to help people in need when we don't have to interact with them personally. I may be labeled as a bleeding heart liberal, but at least I'll be labeled something with a heart.

Now don't go and take this all personally. Agree to disagree and all that. I appreciate your point of view. Really. I just disagree.

pasivirta said...

MZ, thanks for reading, have we met at Ypapanti?
I am not sure where you got the idea that I want to leave, but clearly you have read about the job situation and know that I have an interview for employment elsewhere. That is another story.
But since you brought it up, I think that places like Victoria and Vancouver have become so outrageously overpriced, that perhaps those of us who can't afford to live here shouldn't. I often think about moving to the okanagan, or the praries, where land is affordable and housing is not only for the rich. In victoria or Vancouver city, only the extremely wealthy will own a house.
Does that make it okay for people to live on social assistance while you earn money and pay tax for them to do that? Somewhere the bible says that the worker deserves his wages. Yes, I acknowledge that we must take care of the poor, and that our very soul depends on how we treat those who are in jail, sick, and homeless, like I mentioned, I have spent years with these people. I also agree, there are some who really need help to get on their feet, but this post is aimed at the multitude of people who are content to live within the means of what the government will give them by sleeping on the street and begging while you and I work to pay their way.
I don't think Jesus would approve of that particular type of laziness. Clearly we love everyone, but love does not mean canadian politeness in every circumstance. If I were to allow my son to grow up without working hard ever, and then one day he goes off to work to realize that I have provided to him a lie about how life really is, it would be betrayal.

again, thanks for reading, I am not hurt by disagreement, and in fact relish the way that this sharpens us. I appreciate being challenged towards holiness, thank you.

pasivirta said...

Also, to say that the people who suffer most in society are the ones without money betrays a narrow understanding of suffering. If someone is rich, but they lose a loved one, or have no loved ones, what does their income have to do with their state? Blessed are the poor in spirit. Material success and wealth make for a full stomach, but not for happiness. I complain about lack of money, but I have vast wealth compared to millions around the world. I can choose not only to buy beer, a totally unnecessary thing, but I can choose which one. But that doesn't affect my happiness. When someone has misplaced their identity, and believes that "one day, when I have X amount of dollars, or a house, or whatever, THEN I will not suffer", has probably not read Job.
I am convinced that in some cases, people who choose to be homeless are happy that way. In fact, when I lived in langley, I had a homeless friend who would come to our house every week for open house, he would share our food and drink, and told us that he chose to be homeless. Now, he worked, and never begged, never asked to stay over even. But still, he was willfully poor, but he was happy.

Bethany said...

Living in Davao City, Philippines, I am faced with people who are ostensibly impoverished every day. Most days I can't make it out of my neighborhood without being asked for money. Strangely, most of the beggars here belong to one "tribe" or people group called the Badjao. Now, because of my line of work, I have had lengthy discussions with many men and women of God who have spent years trying to improve the quality of life for the Badjao people. Sadly, every story ends the same. "We tried to help, they didn't want it."

I've stopped giving to these beggars. They are at most street corners, and they are not like the beggars in Canada. These folks are not to be ignored. At every stop light they will surround your car, often banging on your window and making their case with sad dirty faces. There are young girls carrying babies that they have "borrowed" from somebody else in order to gain your sympathy. These babies are malnourished, which makes them all the more pathetic and more likely to bring in the pesos. In some cases, children are maimed by their parents in order to make them a more effective beggar. If I give to them, am I not simply encouraging this culture of poverty?

These people truly believe that they were born to live like this. For generations, this has been their occupation. I believe that is why they so routinely reject opportunities to climb out of poverty.

I seem to recall Jesus asking a simple question of the poor people that he encountered. He liked to ask them what they wanted. This may have seemed like a stupid question, considering their problem (blind, crippled, etc.) was staring him in the face. I think He wanted to know if they really wanted to escape their current position in society. It's interesting to note the response of "I want to see!" instead of "I want your spare change!" Of course healing would immediately change their lot in life. They would no longer be marginalized, but would be a "valuable member of society".

I'm a massive fan of Matthew 25—I'm dedicated to bringing clean water to the thirsty. Providing food for widows (single moms) works for me, but throwing spare change at the problem makes no sense to me whatsoever and I don't believe it is a very good way of loving the poor at all (the Ghandi reference resonates here).

This is getting too long. I don't want to hog the microphone.

-Tim (not Bethany)

elizabeth said...

lots of thoughts here. always cool that you Dave are open to various opinions. I must say I appreciate that about you.

I struggle with this too. I too have offered food to those on the street and they only want cash. They are the same ones year in and year out. Actually it gives me hope in the sense that they are surviving too. One lady I see is so weathered, her whole face is wrinkled and brown except near her eyes which are a bright pink. she has maybe one or two teeth left. I never give her money but always stop to talk to her about the weather, if she is staying warm, etc. We exchanged names yesterday and when she heard I was on my way to church (since I walk everywhere) she said to say a little prayer for her. So I did and lit a candle and when I walked back home, she was still there...

some want food that is given and I think talking to them as fellow human beings is a good thing.

Other than this, I don't know and often feel guilty or unsure;

I have heard it is better to give so that the begger is not compounded with bitterness as well...

we do what we can and pray for mercy.

Callie said...

I would rather see a thousand people take advantage of the system and ONE person get the help they need than a thousand people not get what they need because one person took advantage of the system.
Callie

pasivirta said...

Callie,
I am not saying we shouldn't have the system either, I agree with that. What I am saying is that this work requires a relationship in order to be able to know the people well enough to make that call.

matushkadonna said...

Your mention of relationship in this context reminds us:

'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.'

It is very true that all Christians must help the poor. But it does not earn us a ticket to heaven. To love both the poor, and the rich, both the near and the far, both our brothers and sisters in Christ and our enemies is the great commandment. Being willing to learn how to fulfill it is our life's work as Christians. Tall order.

matushkadonna said...

MZ, may I just note-- 'programs', Orthodox or otherwise, are not always the best and certainly not the only answer. An expensive program may be seen to be waving the Orthodox or whatever flag at the needs of the poor or homeless, but sometimes something simpler done by anonymous individuals will accomplish more for less money, and without the trumpets being blown before those who are giving the alms.

Widgetokos said...

Also MZ-- There ARE Orthodox programs all over the world. And even without the programs individual communities of Orthodox people care for the homeless. Here in Langley our deacon regularly brings chilli to the homeless each week and our church collects all kinds of items for the poor-- not just food for the food bank, but coats and hats and scarves, blankets, baby items, toiletries--even sweets! And that's just our community. The communities of Orthodox in Victoria are setting up an Orthodox drop-in centre downtown.

Gelu said...

"The Poor"

How I see these things: The main purpose of the Christian Orthodox Church is to preserve the Truth that it was given. You can read Christ for Truth. But actually the neat thing is that The Truth preserves the Church. The needy people needs first food and shelter but more important they need Christ, the eternal food, the Bread that gives Life. Is definitely a good thing to give alms. It is good to fight the selfishness in us, it is good to help the people in need. No doubt Christ is among them too, Mathew 25 41-....

Finding the right measure is the thing.

Consider the extreme alms-giving: you give everything you have to the poor. Why would you do that? You surely know why: to follow Christ more truly. So, not to eradicate The Poor. The poor will still be poor. And that is for everybody to have a chance to do good to those little ones. But we are not called to eradicate the poverty! This is just a "tool" not a purpose. A "tool" to draw closer to God, in Christ. It is possible to go astray by making alms-giving your purpose in life and forget about Christ, even if you praise Him weekly and very likely wrongfully-because we are sinful flesh, unless cleaned by Christ-, because alms-giving only will not clean your heart. If done with a good heart It will probably get you a ticket to one of the multitude of places in Heaven (John 14:2). Help people whenever you can, whenever you feel that if you don't, you will not be able to pray with a clean heart at night. Even giving money to a guy that specifically ask you change to buy crack. But give it to him with all your love and compassion, not judging him, if you feel so. If you feel that your heart has no compassion to him but thoughts like "why is he not working?" than the needy one is firstly you, you need more prayer. Or if you don't help them because the system will do it for you, from your taxes even, examine your heart, your conscience towards them. But to have a right answer form your heart or conscience, you have to work to clean the heart and conscience. And there is for you constant and ceaseless prayer, confession, communion. And if you are in doubt, ask and pray Christ! If you ask from your heart, in your heart you will find the answer, by praying, not on the blog, because a Godly answer is so hard to be written if not impossible. (not that the blog is bad, don't get me wrong)
Even if I give everything to the poor, in the end, they need Christ not money or food. But, am I capable to give them Christ? To be Christ's voice for their ears, for their heart? To end, read - and do -Mathew, 9:13.

Please forgive if I offended anyone.

pasivirta said...

Gelu,

I like that you heard the true need in what I was saying.
It is about love,and perhaps we really can only take care of our own conscience.