By Shelly Mayer
#ForColumbia 2018 Event Coordinator
“Why do we send volunteers every year to work at the homes of individuals in our city? How do we identify the people we serve?”
Every year I field questions that, behind the words, express a concern about the wisdom of helping people by “doing for them.” I am sympathetic to those concerns; I also want Christians to serve our community both effectively and wisely.
There are still many things about God’s Word that I find confusing; I suspect I will live the rest of my earthly life that way. But this is one issue about which God has been clear, in both the Old and New Testaments: He has a deep love and compassion for the poor and the marginalized, and He calls us to share His concern:
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”
1 John 3:17
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Let me introduce you to someone I met only recently, Cheryl.*
Cheryl was referred to ForColumbia by a local organization working to assist this woman, who is living on a fixed income and trying as best she can to manage on her own. Cheryl, when offered ForColumbia’s volunteer help around her home, simply asked for help with yard work and to look at her front porch light, which is no longer working. However, when we first arrived at Cheryl’s home, where she has lived for over 20 years, it was readily apparent that there were other things that needed prompt attention as well.
Cheryl is an older woman who lives alone after raising her only daughter as a single parent. She has no other family in town and, while she has a neighbor or two who attempt to look after her and offer a helping hand, her age and loss of physical stamina is slowly causing her to lose the battle to maintain her home. Just as one example, one of the more pressing problems is that her tiny front steps are literally crumbling away from the home and have become dangerous to use.
This year, For Columbia has committed to help Cheryl with the yard work she’s concerned about – but we’re also going to “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and give her a new porch, one she can use confidently, without worrying about falling and further endangering her health.
To be honest, I really don’t know all of Cheryl’s story; how she came to be a single parent, or why she stays in Columbia since her family lives elsewhere…except that she tells me, “I’ve grown accustomed to Columbia.” Having lived here since the 1970’s, Cheryl worked for the University of Missouri for a period of time, but found she could make more money to support her daughter if she took a factory job. Since that time, she has worked and lived in our community for over 40 years and, as she ages, wouldn’t it be nice if her community was there for her?
There are nearly a dozen other homes where we will be working this year on Saturday April 28th. Every individual served by ForColumbia in the next few weeks has been referred to us by a local organization that regularly works in the lives of the elderly, the disabled, the marginalized. In short, these folks have all been vetted in advance. Each of these people has a story that, if you sign up to serve on April 28th, you just might get an opportunity to hear.
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and “love the poor” in some sort of generalized, detached manner. However, all four gospel accounts take pains to demonstrate that Jesus was “a hands-on kind of guy.” He got his hands dirty, quite literally, when he made put mud on a blind man’s eyes to restore his site (John 9:6) and when he touched lepers as he cleansed them (Matthew 8:3).
Hands-on service can get messy. Jesus was well aware of this reality, yet He invites us to flourish by following His example. See you on April 28th!
Sign Up Deadline: Friday, April 13th.
*Not her real name.
Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”