Are We Living (Just Enough) for the City?

Guest blogger, Deborah Karajas from Providence Church Perth, shares some thoughts about doing good to the city.  It’s a great insight.

I have a dilemma.

Today I gave some money to a homeless person.

I didn’t want to tell you that, because I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet and, quite frankly, I’d rather not forfeit my reward in heaven.

However, along with that little bit of information comes a story that I feel is worth sharing, and a point that is worth making. So that’s what I will do.

She was sitting, cross legged, against the wall in the walkway above the train station, holding the token cardboard “I’m homeless and hungry” sign and looking suspiciously pregnant. She was staring at the ground, not saying anything or making supplications with her eyes or hands; just sitting there. She looked embarrassed, even sorry.

We walked past with our girls in their expensive double pram and I felt guilty. Or convicted.

Then we reached a dead-end in our path due to construction works and had to back-track, so I said to my husband, “Is there anything we can do to help that lady?”

“Give her some money?”

So I took a fiver out of my wallet (all the cash I had on hand) and walked over, crouched down next to her, looked her in the eyes and handed her the note. “Thank you so much”, she said as she tucked it into her bra, meeting my gaze with her arrestingly blue eyes, showing a mixture of surprise, shame and gratefulness.

I put my hand on her knee and asked if there was anything else I could do to help.

“Are you a Christian?” she asked. I nodded. She smiled a knowing little smile and said, “You can pray for me.” She added that lots of Christians had prayed for and helped her. I asked for her name and told her mine. Let’s call her Amy.

She told me she had a partner and they’d recently found out she was pregnant (I thought to myself that she looked too old to be pregnant – no doubt aged beyond her years). I asked about where they were sleeping and how they were going for food. I told her about the soup kitchen at my parents’ church and asked if she’d been able to line up any antenatal care. She’d tried, at KEMH, but they needed an address. She has four other children, all in foster care, ranging from 9 months (…9 months!!!) to 15 years old.

I prayed with her and got her phone number so I could follow up with her to see how she gets on.

The thing that really struck me about our exchange was the way that, as soon as I offered more than cash, she so instantly asked if I was a Christian – seemingly already pretty sure that the answer would be “yes”.

This tells me at least two things.

Firstly, it means there are a decent number of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are, however falteringly, following in His footsteps by caring for the needy in Perth – enough for Amy to recognise a trend. Praise God for that!

Secondly, it suggests that the views of some neo-atheists or anti-theists, that religions in general and Christianity in particular are a net loss to society and a cause of great evil, probably wouldn’t resonate very much with someone like Amy! It’s not the Atheist Society that is out running soup kitchens and giving her free meals; it’s not even the Buddhists or the Hare Krishnas stopping to chat with her and offering to help.

I am not denying that people who are not followers of Christ are capable of great compassion and service of others. And I am not denying that much hurt has been caused and appalling damage done under the name of Christ. However, it is worth considering what Amy’s experience, anecdotal though it is, might demonstrate.

I believe it reminds us that professing Christians should be, and a great many of them are, exceptionally and distinctively generous people. People who give not merely of their spare change, but who give sacrificially of their time, their emotional energy, their homes AND their money to help the poor and disadvantaged. Including those who don’t deserve it and can never repay it. Because that is what our Beautiful Saviour has done for us, and He calls, commands and empowers us to go and do likewise.

So let me encourage you to live with your eyes open to the needs of those around you, and don’t spend too much of your time and energy arguing with atheists who are angry at their idea of God, because meanwhile – as MJ reminded us – “there are people dying, if you care enough for the living”. There are people desperate to be touched by the Lord Jesus, who aren’t railing against religion or even asking why a good God could let bad things happen to them. There are those who are calling out to God for mercy, and simply need His people to reach out to them with some food, some money, a loving touch, a visit, a warm welcome, a prayer. Everyone needs the gospel, but not everyone will need to be brow-beaten with it! Some are just waiting to hear it, and to be shown the compassionate love of our prodigal God. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ (John 4:34). Yes, even in Perth. And one benefit of prioritising caring for the needy is that those hardened atheists just might soften a little as they see you practising what you preach! In Matthew 5:16, it is seeing our ‘good deeds’ that will cause others to glorify our Father in heaven. Similarly in 1 Peter 2:12.

And let us also remember that in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), it wasn’t people’s perfect theology or refined apologetic strategies that saw them welcomed into His arms, but whether they had truly believed the gospel of grace, enough to go and share it with the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the refugee.

Are there ways you can do that this week?

PROLOGUE:

My church (which is also Steve’s church) functions within a paradigm that we call ‘The 3Gs’ – gospel telling, gospel community, gospel deeds. Obviously it’s really only one ‘G’ – Gospel – which reminds us that these 3 are inseparable; they are ALL essential parts of our discipleship and our mission, all shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon, once our new church website is up and running, I am going to publish there a series of blog posts ‘profiling’ various opportunities for living out ‘The 3Gs’, beginning with gospel deeds. So I’d love to hear your ideas for doing gospel deeds in Perth, or stories you have of Christ’s love being shown to the poor and disadvantaged, the outcasts and the socially isolated.

Some material that I have found especially helpful in crystallising my understanding of the biblical call to care for the needy includes:
– The gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark and Luke.
– Generous Justice, by Timothy Keller
– Two sermons by Keller – ‘Lifestyles of Mercy’ and ‘Mercy Ministries’, available as MP3s for $2.50 each from sermons.redeemer.com. (The content overlaps with the book, but obviously the sermons are a less time-consuming option.)
– A Heart for the City, by John Fuder. Reflections and stories of ministering to the urban poor in Chicago. I am in the middle of reading this currently and finding it helpful and inspiring, not least because I live 2km from the CBD! Fuder has also co-authored a more recent book called ‘A Heart for the Community’, which covers similar priniciples but across both urban and suburban contexts.

Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend?

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