…we should be asking how we can do more, but in doing “more” we should realize that our anti-poverty efforts largely address symptoms and not causes.
For many, many years I spent time “in the trenches” reaching out to at-risk youth. At first I was the stereotypical naive idealist. ”All they need is love and a chance,” I thought. Working in mentoring programs, I spent untold hours playing catch, going to little league games, going to parks, and just hanging out with at-risk kids as part of a variety of programs. Seeing ragged clothes, I’d buy new clothes. Hearing that a mother couldn’t pay the light bill, I’d kick in and help. I spent night after night sleeping in homeless shelters, cooking dinners in the evening, pancake breakfasts in the morning, and fixing snack lunches for hard days on the streets.
I can’t remember when I first realized that I was accomplishing nothing of substance. A few car break-ins taught me that some guys saw me as an easy mark. A few pot purchases with the “gas bill money” taught me that others saw me as an ATM. Admonitions to “stay in school” had little appeal compared to drug-fueled orgies for kids as young as fifteen years old. I tried. God knows I tried. But it was all for naught.
Only one thing really worked. The Cross. There are kids today that Nancy and I worked with who are doing well, who are happily married, and who are pillars of their community. What made the difference for them? The Cross. It wasn’t about my words. It wasn’t about my effort. (After all, I tried just as hard or harder with other kids — who are now in prison or “baby-daddies” or both.) The kids who made it heard the Gospel, repented of sin, and were transformed through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
It’s trendy now for churches to put less emphasis on the Gospel and more emphasis on service. I’ve even heard Christians almost brag that their outreach efforts don’t include any proselytizing at all. This is tragic. Billions of dollars of “service” won’t change hearts and lives. We know that now. In fact, those very billions may very well numb the human heart to the gravity of its sin.
So, yes, let’s do “more,” but let’s make sure that “more” is aimed at the real source of American poverty — our depravity.
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