A Hand Up or a Handout?

One of the most important things a church can do is to not let a person’s need become the church’s crisis.

During recent morning rounds, my first stop was Love INC member church First Baptist Church (FBC) to deliver a copy of Redemptive Compassion to new twenty-something volunteer Shelby. As I approached the church entrance, I noticed Michael S. sitting on a bench; likely homeless from his dress, appearance and his clutching of a chaotic sheaf of personal papers. As I approached the church entrance, Michael said: ”Sir, can I ask you a question?” I acknowledged him, introduced myself and listened intently.

Michael proceeded to share his several-year history with FBC, his relationship with pastor Bob and assistant pastor Kevin, their generous help over the past few years, and Michael’s bewilderment that his FBC connection Kevin was no longer “working.” He also shared that current staff were “unwilling to help” him with current needs and were referring him to Love INC. I asked: “What are you looking for?”  Michael replied: “I am a convicted felon, recently released from jail, and in need of two bus passes so I can register at the sheriff’s today by 4 PM.”

I explained to Michael that I was dropping off a book with FBC receptionist and would talk to him afterwards. Once inside, I inquired about Michael and discovered he had been helped extensively and was in the process of being referred to Love INC for our assessment.

Emergency, charitable compassion –handout – must be accompanied by developmental compassion –a “hand-up.”  

Could two bus passes make a difference in Michael’s life? At a cost of $6.80 for two bus passes, I cautiously decided to commence a trial relationship with Michael on my terms. I would drive him to downtown Hart Line bus station and purchase his bus passes. Once inside my car, Michael said: “Can I ask you a question?” After I said yes, Michael added: “I also need $25 to get my ID at the DMV office. I can’t register without my ID.”

Grasping for wisdom and discernment, I didn’t trust him and was reluctant to accompany and sit with him in the DMV office awaiting his ID. Since FBC staff had a multi- year history with Michael, I suggested we both return to the church office. I explained to FBC staff Michael’s request for $25 to purchase his ID. My inquiry of staff member: “Can Michael be trusted with $25?” After hearing no from staff, Michael said: “Without $25, I can’t get my ID and register today.” I replied: “Your emergency is not our emergency.” And, “The best predictor of your future behavior is your past behavior.”

Back in the car, Michael spoke nonstop during our fifteen-minute drive to the bus station. He shared his “orphanage life”; growing up in the Children’s Home Network, foster care system, his gifts as a musician and dancer, his ten-year Gracepoint history of behavioral health issues: reportedly ADHD, Bi-polar diagnosis, and ten years in and out of homelessness. His only possession was a bundle of paperwork containing “several lawsuits he assembled while incarcerated that are in the process of being filed that would make me whole.”

While driving, I offered to connect him with Charlie, a trained Love INC resource navigator, to accompany him to the DMV and pay for his ID. He declined my offer; which could have been the first step, and a start of developmental compassion and life beyond the chaos of homelessness.

Love INC is not set up to handle emergencies, or chronically homeless individuals like Michael. We only explore distributing funds in order to guests engaged and in relationship with a resource navigator in our transformational ministry.

After we parked and walked to the Hart Line office to buy bus passes, another question came from Michael: “Can I ask you a question?… Can you buy me a 31-day pass?” I responded “no”; knowing he could sell the $65 bus pass within minutes.

At the Hart ticket counter, after seeing me purchase two ten-packs of single day bus passes, his next question:

”Can I have a ten pack of passes?” Me:” “Not in my lifetime.”

I handed Michael two bus passes, wished him well and suggested he call my cell phone to check in. I looked around and he was gone.            

Over the course of several years, well-intentioned FBC staff tried to demonstrate God’s love by helping Michael, with food, shelter,  a GED certificate, ID and more.  When they were out of options, they referred him to Love INC.

Our investment in Michael – a bottle of water and bus passes represents another handout, an expression of charity compassion, and treating Michael with dignity and respect. However, until Michael is serious about transforming his life, the world of developmental compassion, a hand up, eludes him.

“Do you love Me? Do you love those I love?” – Jesus Christ.

Michael represents the highest in His kingdom; the highest fruit on His tree, currently out of our reach, with the least likelihood of Love INC helping him transform his life, to live his life as God intended. Meanwhile we remain “on hold”; in prayerful wisdom and discernment of his fit, if any, for Love INC services.

A hand up or a handout for Michael? Don’t be too quick to intervene in Michael’s life when God is at work.

Love, with accountability – this is what the mobilized church looks like. 

Michael Doyle / vision carrier / Love INC of Metro Tampa

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