What about helping our poor countrymen? No matter what place we are in, there will always be poor among us. Sometimes we get so focused on helping the starving poor in some area with a huge disaster because it is in the news, but we are blind to our poor countryman right next door, or just downtown in our own city
Recently, I was trying to explain to someone in Africa that although we don't appear to have visible homeless people on the streets in Saskatoon - especially in our bitterly cold winters - we do have poor and needy here. They are just hidden in shelters, or friends take them in for the night, or they find heated, underground parking areas to hang out over night, and then they go into open public places in the daytime. That does not even include the poor that have a place to live, thanks to the welfare system, but have so little income that they have to go without many things.
Do taxes count? Can we say that we are helping out ourpoor countrymen by saying we pay taxes which pay for welfare programs that help them?
Would those welfare payments be enough for you?
What does God say about caring for our poor countrymen in our own land?
"If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit." (Leviticus 25:35-37 NIV)
Under God's rule then, we are to look out for, and help fellow citizens who are poor, without making a profit on them.
The above passage urges giving without taking a profit, but government help often has conditions attached. Rather, God calls for pure giving of food and necessities. His goal is to help these people to live among us.
How exactly, shall you and I incorporate this into our lives? If I don't plan for this, I will forget and it won't happen. I confess that often I have left this area to the secular givers, and focused on missions support in my giving. Is that true for you too?
One. We can watch for acquaintances that we learn are short on groceries, and slip them some money or food.
Two. We could contribute to the Food Bank. Agencies of all kinds refer the needy there, but there is a stigma attached.
Three. We should allow for this kind of assistance in our regular giving plan. We can't aliviate all poverty, but we can carefully consider in what ways and how often we can, and choose to help.
Four. It would be wise to read up and research the situation of our poor countreymen, (In my case, Canadians) so that we have a better sense of the need, and can come up with better plans for helping them.
How do we go about such research?
Let's start with a little brainstorm scribbling. Got a pen and paper handy? Let's jot down: Relatives. Under that let's name our family member or relatives who are poor. (I am doing this right now too). Write: Friends. Underneath jot down friends you know who are hurting financially. Perhaps between jobs, or simply not well enough to work. Do you know any of of the people up and down your street? Let's make a list for them too: Neighbours. (If you don't know any, consider whether you should socialize more).
Let's expand our horizon. Are there people groups in your city or area known to be poor and ignored by others? Write those down too as a group. You may not know any by name. (ie. aboriginals around 20th St., homeless, abused women and children in a Sheltered home).
Now, as we look over our lists - do we see a pattern emerging? Do we only know a few needy individuals, or do we have a broad range? Do the sight of some names start to give you ideas? Some of those people need big time help - far more than we can give them. Some would be easy; we could take them out for coffee and slip them some bills of money. Or mail it to them, if farther away.
Our poor countrymen, no matter how destitute they are, don't like the feeling of being someone's "project to help the poor." But we may need to make a bit of a hidden project out of helping them, or else we just won't get around to it. That is why making lists, and deciding, for example, "This week I could talk to so and so, and slip her some money. Then next week, (or at the end of the month), I'll spend time with so and so, and see if they'll accept a gift from me."
The wonderful thing is that blessing someone else with kind, thoughtful gifts and words of encouragement bless us too! If we have a regular income and set aside a certain amount in each pay period to pass on to someone in need we can ease into a lifestyle of generous giving quite painlessly.
Don't worry about receipts. This kind of giving is best done as unto the Lord, and He has promised that He Himself will reward those who give to the poor. If you are giving in His name, He will see to it that you are reimbursed and God will never be in debt to you!
It IS good to give to missions, and people groups in crisis in other parts of the world, but we should remember our poor countrymen too. If you are in such a severely handicapped situation yourself that you can't do this giving personally, you can send funds to some local ministries and charities who are helping the needy on a daily basis. If you are not aware of any, ask your church pastor or leaders, or simply ask around and you'll soon be aware of far more than one person can help alone.
Jesus said, "The needy are always with you..." So we won't eradicate poverty. There are too many causes/holes, and pumping them full of money doesn't close them. But getting personally involved and helping a few, helping them as friends and fellow-citizens, now that's a more productive story.