Does it matter how we help people?

In 1988 Bill McDowell and I traveled to Atlanta to visit with Bob Lupton, founder and director of FCS Ministries in the Grant Park area. Second Mile was in its infancy. We knew God was calling us to make a difference in the Terry Heights community, but how. What is the best way to help people? That day we visited their thrift store, called “Dignity for Dads.” FCS vowed from the beginning not to give things to people; rather, they would help the neediest people to purchase what they needed and desired at an affordable cost. They wanted to help without stealing people’s pride and dignity. We were duly impressed and returned to Huntsville to think and pray about how we might help in ways that guard people’s dignity. We had learned a lot.

We learned that it is appropriate and helpful to give things to people in emergencies, in the middle of the crisis. For example, Red Cross provides clothing and other things when people experience a disaster, when they have lost most everything. But they stay there only a short time until they have given people a boost toward the future. So it is good to give things to people in a crisis. However, we are learning that it is not good to keep giving things to people for the long term; it steals people’s dignity; it communicates to them that we don’t think they can do things for themselves; it creates an unhealthy and destructive dependency, which can continue through generations. This educational foundation led us to take our next step of providing toys during Christmas at a low cost. Out of that prayer group we decided in September ’88 to open a Christmas store, “Santa’s Secret Shoppe” for the month of December. We found a building in Terry Heights that had been condemned due to the construction of I-565. One Wednesday night dinner at Covenant we approached Ann Witherspoon, a recent college graduate, about directing the ministry. She said, “Sure”. And we were off. Through donations of new, good used toys and financial gifts that allowed us to purchase other toys, we opened the store from December 1-December 24. We wondered if anyone would show up. And people did come to shop. The community response was positive. We gave parents the opportunity to purchase toys and other gifts for their children’s Christmas. We gave them the sense of joy and pride that parents experience when they know they are providing for their children.  The next year we had to find a new building and we renovated the garage at Second Mile’s office and held Santa’s Secret Shoppe there. People still came

because they wanted to provide for their own children. The next year The Neighborhood Store/Pride for Parents was born and grew into a year round ministry. Parents who did not have money could (and still can) work in the store and earn credit with which to buy gifts for their children. This happens every year. Helping in ways that guard people’s dignity. Helping in a way that gives people a boost, not a hand out. I have watched parents stand in line at Christmas gift give-a-ways. They stand there, sometimes with their children, waiting to “get“ their “free” gift. Sometimes they must prove they are poor, or live in subsidized housing. Does it matter how we help people?

Recently Bill shared a Chinese poem:

Go to the people, live among them, Learn from them, love them.

Start with what you know. Build on what they have.

But the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark,

“We have done it ourselves.”

We believe it does matter how we help others, that we help others in ways that guard their dignity, strengthen them to go forward in hope. This is why Second Mile has been a signature ministry of Covenant’s outreach for twenty-nine years.

You can help provide new and good used toys for parents to purchase for their children at an affordable cost by bringing them to Covenant. As you enter our narthex/hallway you will see a brightly decorated BOX where you can deposit toys. Yes it is true. We will not get to see the bright smiles on the eyes of the children who will receive them. But their parents will. And that’s exactly what we want.

Making a Difference By Being Jesus’ Presence,