Often we see people in need. We’ll drive by the homeless person on the street and wonder what we could do. Should we give them money, a gift card, or buy them lunch? We’ll clean out a closet and feel good about dropping old clothes off at Goodwill, but does that really help?
Eric Miller talks with Eric Lane and Bethany Miller about how to help people without hurting them.
Bethany Miller is development and marketing director for Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County, Maryland. Eric Lane is founder and director of Fellowship Missions homeless shelter in Warsaw, Indiana.
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Tell us about your role and how God led you there.
Eric says his family was exposed to the need of the homeless in the community. James 2 talks about how, as Christ followers, we should be helping. It seems simple, but seeing the need is what prompted him to fill it by starting Fellowship Missions. Eric has been the ON MISSION coordinator for Momentum Youth Conference for several years where he oversees the outreach experience for the 2,500 conference attendees.
When Bethany graduated college she didn’t know what she was going to do next. She started mediating on ‘to much is given, much is required’. She understood that she’d been exceptionally blessed in life and in her college experience. After college she did a year with Americorp working with at-risk youth. That helped launch her into her non-profit career. Bethany had a couple of positions that were in direct-care social work which helped her decide that she was more suited to work in the administrative side. Bethany met Eric while working with an organization that helped women with job interviews. She’s now working for Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County, Maryland, managing fundraising, marketing, and other aspects of the ministry. Bethany says she’s fortunate to see a lot of different sides of non-profit and volunteer work.
What is the goal of your organization and what is a common misconception about it?
Eric says that one of Fellowship Missions goals is to give people a safe place to rest their head. But at the core, the goal is to give them a relationship with Christ. The idea is to meet emergency needs so they can grow. “God is the tool belt,” as Eric likes to tell residents. “But Fellowship Missions gives them the tools to put in the belt.” These tools could be budgeting skills, addiction recovery, and other tools to help individuals through the circumstances that got them to the front door. They love the residents enough to not allow them to stay where they are. Fellowship Missions is there to show residents the love of Christ. It’s about relationships that are at the crucial place for change.
A common misconception Eric sees among people is that homeless people can’t change. But everybody has the opportunity to change.
[bctt tweet=”A common misconception is that homeless people can’t change.”] Bethany says that the goal of Habitat for Humanity is about home ownership. Habitat does build houses, but people don’t know the full picture. People think they give away houses, but Habitat uses the homes as a way for people to participate in their own homes and purchase at a reduced rate.
A misconception is how Habitat operates. Every Habitat works as it’s own non-profit. Resources are shared through Habitat International, but they are locally governed and fund raised. That puts all donations to work within the local community.
Habitat is branching out to subsidize home repairs to help people stay safe.
Another misconception is that there are many struggling people who don’t realize that they can get their own home through Habitat. They typically make too much money for other social services, but housing is expensive. Habitat serves in the gap where people aren’t making enough money to own their own home, but too much money to apply for other social services.
What are some general public misunderstandings about the goal of your organization and others like it?
Bethany says the key is to educate yourself first. Have a conversation with the non-profit you want to help and find out what their needs are. Habitat has had businesses and service organizations call and say that their day of service is, say, Aug 3, and they want to bring out 50 people. Bethany isn’t criticizing motivations because it’s beautiful to want to serve. But when you come to the non-profit with a specific date, they might not be able to use you on that date. Some days Habitat has to have trained contractors onsite to do the work. Plus habitat houses can be small and 50 people just can’t work effectively on the job site. Sometimes groups will get offended when this is explained to them. The non-profit needs your help, but come and serve where needed.
Get to know the organization because they probably have routes for you to serve. It has to be a partnership.
Eric loves the heart behind the willingness to serve. The best way to learn how to help a demographic is to be in that area and learn about it. We all have our own ideas of how we can help, but is it the right way to help? Start off small. There are 364 days out of the year when they need help. Just because they don’t need help today doesn’t mean they don’t need you tomorrow. Learn about the organization’s needs and the people they serve. You can be a hindrance to an organization if you show up with too many people. The Fellowship Missions building is small, so they can’t have 30 or 40 people on site. Sometimes they have to say ‘no’ for various reasons. Before you react to a ‘no’, find out how you can serve.
What are steps you need to take to begin to serve?
Eric says to start off with, “How can we help?” Let the organization flush that out for you. Too often we come to an organization and say we have a certain number of people that want to come on this specific day. Get with the organization on the early side of planning to make it the best experience possible.
Bethany agrees with Eric. She also adds to come with a humble and flexible heart. Ask how you can help? Where will we be most effective?
Eric says this can be an excellent teaching point for the students as they watch how the adults handle working with the non-profit..
What are practical tips to meeting your neighborhood’s needs?
Eric says to not think that you’ll save the world. Just start where you feel God is leading you. Don’t think you have to do a grandiose idea. The smallest thing is still helping. Help your neighbor out with yard work. Sometimes you feel a burden to go down to the soup kitchen and serve. Call the non-profit and go. You might not need a group. Maybe you can pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor. Have your eyes open and be willing to say”‘yes” when you feel that tug to do something. You never know where a “yes” will lead you.
Scripture talks about going to Jerusalem, Judea, and the end of the world. If we can’t learn to serve those right around us, how can we serve those outside of us? You might have someone in your own youth group who needs help.
Bethany read the book Dangerous Prayers by Craig Groeschel. She understands now that you don’t need to move overseas to be a missionary. It may start smaller. Ask God to open your eyes to how He’s gifted you. God has gifted each of us in various ways and ways that you might not have discovered yet. A service opportunity might be next door or in an organization. We can dissuade ourselves that we don’t have enough money to give, or you can’t cook. Yes, you can. God can use you if you have a willing and humble heart. You, too, can be part of that story. It starts with a really small, “Yes. God, how do you want to use me?” Ask God where He wants to use you. Take that step of faith and be confident in your ability to serve, but humble.
How do meeting physical needs and spiritual needs go hand-in-hand?
Eric says he’ll see volunteers changed as a result of helping at Fellowship Missions. The reason Fellowship Missions meets physical needs is because there’s openness there. Through the relationships trust is built allowing conversations. Other groups have attached strings to coming to know Christ and that’s a tough one. Eric can open the Bible and read it front to back to someone, but until he really gets to know the individual, he can’t help them. Until we know what’s inside, we can’t have true, authentic change, and openness to hearing the gospel. Fellowship Missions is there to create that environment.
In order to make the transition from helping to hearing the gospel, Bethany says to not be afraid to talk about Jesus and your own story. Habitat is a Christian based organization, but they don’t evangelise. They do that because Jesus calls us to serve. The founder of Habitat, Millard Fuller, wrote The Theology of the Hammer. In it he talks about the need for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in order to put the theology of Christ into practice. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Recognize that service has got to come with humility. The people Habitat serves are made by God, in the image of God, and loved and treasured as much as anyone else.
A few years ago, one of their Habitat home owners with two kids found out their father was in addiction while she was pregnant. She separated from her husband and was sharing a room with her son. She had a job and was making a good living, but couldn’t afford housing on her own. She put in her application that she wanted her kids to grow up being proud of her for providing. She wanted her kids to be able to bring friends over for the first time. She wanted to sit on the porch and drink cocoa. Bethany was pregnant at the time and realized that everything this mom wanted was what Bethany wanted. We have to come into service understanding that we might be blessed, but we are no better than our neighbors. God calls us to serve. We can serve in the name of Jesus, but we have to understand how we can serve. It’s not that we’re going to serve “those people over there,” but we’ll serve whoever God brings into our path because God loves them just as much as He loves us.
Eric tries to live his life so it demands an explanation. That opens doors for people to ask why his life is so different. Then he has an open door to share the gospel.
What can you do for people who ask for money?
Eric says to ask questions like, “How can I help?”. You could offer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bottle of water to start a conversation. Be wise in how you do it, but start with something.
Bethany has an internal struggle with giving out money. Check your spirit and ask yourself why you want to give them money. Remember that the money belongs to God. If you’re not giving money because you’re afraid of what they might do with it, you’re passing judgment on them. That’s a good time to take pause and ask why that’s driving you.
Eric suggests that if you’re living in a community where there are other resources, point people in need to those organizations.
Bethany suggests for people to give to an organization that helps others. Find a non-profit that’s doing great things in your community and support them financially.
Eric says to find out what the good works are that God has created for you to do. Use those gifts and talents to change the world. We will change the world when we don’t look at others as less than or greater than us. It starts with us, one at a time. Put away the stereotypes. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s not that difficult. Really, really challenge the youth. Our youth have amazing ideas and the way they think about service is incredible. Encourage and direct, but listen to them.