Not long ago I spoke to a church located in a well-to-do part of Dallas. Great folks who are eager to do good things, serve people and make a difference in our city. The minister had invited me to speak to the group about faith, biblical theology and "the poor," which I was happy to do.
About a week later, I received an e-mail message form the minister thanking me for being with the church and suggesting that I return at some point in the near future to address a topic something like, “10 practical things I can do to seek justice and do compassion.” I like that! I responded that I would love that assignment, and I expect we will work on that in the next few weeks.
Recently, another friend and minister was discussing the same subject, how it is that suburban or exurban congregations of material means can best assist urban ministries and low-income, inner city communities like ours.
One statement he made summed up well a sentiment that I've heard often from the leaders of such faith groups: "We’re going to need some specific guidance to get people engaged before we’re able to get money engaged. . . ."
I understand what he is saying.
Many people of faith, who don't reside in depressed and challenged neighborhoods, want to help in a "hands on" way. They want to volunteer. They want to be involved in the experience of the "community of need." Many also want to know what is going on and what is being done "on the ground," so to speak.
Such involvement for lots of people is a prerequisite for providing financial assistance. I think I understand this need donors have.
Over the years I couldn't count the number of people who have told me, "Larry, no problem is ever solved by 'throwing money' at it!"
Again, while I do understand this point of view, I must quickly add that I haven't seen anyone "throwing money" at the problems we attempt to address every day!
The entire matter gets very complicated.
Rich (or at least, relatively rich) people want to do more than give money. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that their money is something they will eventually give! Lots of people give nothing, no matter what. Further, like my friends at the first church I mentioned, folks with means want to know practical steps they can take to help beyond writing a check.
On the other hand, poor people genuinely desire to help themselves and make whatever contributions of time, talent, sweat equity and even money to address the problems facing their families and their neighborhoods. This is why we utilize the gifts and energies of so many low-income persons. As a result, we need very few volunteers , which can be a "turn off" at times to our more affluent friends and partners in churches.
Then, there is our mission. We are here to build community and to stand alongside poor folks to see them take responsibility for improving their own lives, environments and living conditions.
What do poor folks and organizations like ours need most from the more affluent?
That's not rocket science. We need funds, financial support and a sustainable commitment to back our work. In most cases, when a person with financial capacity asks me what is the best way to help me and CDM, I say something like, "Did you bring your checkbook?"
That is just the honest truth.
We have a plan. We have great people and an amazing team. We have a strategy and, most importantly, we are working with the poor as peers and partners. We have lots of hands and they are engaged, really "on," if you will!
What we don't have is enough funding to address the problems that we know well. That is just reality.
Our philosophy dictates that the role of outside volunteers will always be minimal compared to the role required by the people who reside in the challenged communities.
To be sure, there will be many meaningful ways for outsiders with wealth to be involved as volunteers. And, we will always welcome outsiders who want to be among us to make new friends, help with the work we are doing and better understand our city.
But, a strategy to engage the involvement of outside volunteers cannot become the primary driving force behind our mission or strategy. The day that becomes the case will be the day our effectiveness in community building and development will end.
Our mission here is not charity.
We are moving beyond charity to human and community development.
Our mission requires partners of material means who will surrender control of their dollars to those facing daunting problems needing a solution. This will always be among the highest and best contributions outside groups can offer the inner city.
Of course, it takes real faith to give on these terms.
More on this subject later. . . .
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