Thursday, December 4, 2008
To Give You a Future and a Hope...
The City Rescue Mission is nearing the end of its annual Christmas Basket sign-up. What this entails is signing up low-income individuals and families, who are in a home, for a basket of food and gifts for Christmas. It is always a busy time, especially as the Mission is usually the last agency in the area to hold the Christmas sign-up, and many who "missed" the sign-up at another organization are referred here.
While the actual signing in process is usually held in our dining room or day room (609 and 613 E. Michigan Avenue), some people get confused and come to our office (607 E. Michigan Avenue). It wasn't a surprise then, when a woman came to the door and began talking about Christmas baskets. What was a surprise was when we deciphered her somewhat flustered speech.
"You shouldn't be giving these people things! You need to make them work! You are enabling their laziness!"
That was the gist of her rant, and it was no use to explain to her. She wouldn't listen when we told her that the people who received Christmas baskets have a home. That many of them were "working poor" who just need a little help now and then. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the men waiting outside the dayroom to sign-up for a bed for the night, and she went on her way, probably still angry with us for what she viewed as our damage to society, and left a lingering bad taste in her wake. A bad taste of all those words that remained unsaid and the impossibility of explaining or communicating anything to someone who only wanted to hear her own opinions.
That taste remained as I mulled over just how to explain why we do what we do. In a way, she had a point. We do want our guests to find jobs. We want them to work and create new lives for themselves. We want them to leave us. It's a strange sort of job. You grow to care for these men, women, and children, but your ultimate goal is to put them in a position where they don't need the Mission. Where we don't see them sitting on a bench outside our doors or walking up the driveway with their kids in tow. We love them so they will leave.
So how do you differentiate between the "deserving" and the "undeserving" poor? How do we tell a man who's waiting outside in the cold that he's not welcome because we don't believe he's done what he should do? Yet on the other hand, we do want them to work. We want them to be productive. To be active in making the right choices for themselves, for their families, for their future...
The answer came later the next day, while we gathered to celebrate the graduation of one of the men on our Transformation Program. These men are addicts. On the road to recovery, committed to "transformation," but many of them have caused a lot of damage. They made drugs and alcohol their god and eventually sacrificed everyone and everything they ever cared about, that ever cared about them. Does that make them "undeserving" of another chance at a new life?
In the end, it isn't about what they deserve but about grace. The grace of a God who gives gifts to us over and beyond what we could ask or think. Not because we're great, or special, or deserving. Because He loves us.
That is what motivates us. That is our mission. To reach out a hand of help as an example of this unending grace. Some of those who come to us are what is termed "chronically homeless." In many cases, they've given up on society and on themselves. So do we give up on them? Has God given up? Did He give up on us?
Aren't second chances and redemption what Christmas is all about?