Thursday, August 25, 2011

How can we really help?

Recently we started a food program at our church which we call Manna. One Saturday morning a month we have several dedicated volunteers arrive who prepare a free breakfast that we serve to anyone in the community who joins us. We also spend the month collecting canned goods and non-perishable food that we set out on a table for our visitors, telling them that our goal is to send home enough food with them to last them through the day. We are able to put flyers in the take home folders of children at our local elementary school and word is getting around the community when these breakfasts take place. We are also in a conversation with some other local churches to possibly offer these meals more than once a month...

There remains a part of me that continues to wonder how much help this is really giving the families that join us. I am involved with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program and in this we read a great book, "The Practice of Adaptive Leadership" by Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky which help differentiate between technical and adaptive practices. A technical issue is being addressed with our Manna program: What can we do to help the hungry people in our community. Answer: Feed them. But there are some adaptive issues that are also raised: Why are people hungry? What is happening in their life that prevents them from providing for their own well being? What is the story behind their hunger? Addressing the adaptive issues behind the hunger is a more complicated, involved task.

So complicated that on one level I believe the church DOES NOT WANT to address. We feel overwhelmed by the question and by the lack of information available to respond to the seeming long term needs of the people who visit us. And yet, to not address them simply insures that our Manna program is nothing other than a way of continuing these people lives who struggle to find enough food for their families on a weekly or monthly basis.

Jesus tells the disciples, when the crowds have gathered and they have urged him to send the crowd away, to give them something to eat. This story, on one level, is easy to understand. People are hungry, so we should feed them. But there is another level to this story as well. The hunger that many in that crowd must have felt was a spiritual one. Jesus' teaching was about more than filling empty stomachs, it was about filling ailing spirits.

How can we provide for the spiritual hunger that plagues our Manna visitors? How can we adaptively address the issues behind their physical and spiritual hunger? If we fail to ask these questions, then in some ways we also fail to help.

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