From the CEO

Reality and a Greater Purpose

We’re appreciative of all the nice comments from those who attended this month’s DC Forum online. There were certainly a lot of subjects discussed over those two days. And the U.S. Supreme Court has taken some action in the Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission case. You can read about that in the next issue of Street Smart, on Friday.

In one of the DC Forum’s small-group discussions, they were talking about the frequently restated goal of government regarding homelessness. Someone suggested that perhaps Citygate Network members should stand together and change the narrative, declaring publicly and repeatedly that, despite everyone’s best efforts, we are not going to end homelessness. To forecast to the contrary gives false expectations. We can alleviate it—and we should try—but ending it is not realistic.

It’s not even scriptural, I added. I took that opportunity in the DC Forum to paraphrase a few lines from my book, Invisible Neighbors, which several later asked me to restate. Here is a greatly abridged version:

“With His crucifixion looming large, Jesus declares, ‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want…’

“… Jesus may have been [referencing what Moses wrote] in Deuteronomy 15, verses 4 and 5: ‘There should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.’ In other words, be obedient and you will not have a portion of your people permanently poor. Jesus may have been asserting that because of Israel’s history of noncompliance with God’s commandments, His disciples could expect a lingering legacy of Jewish poverty. He knew His people.

“Back in Deuteronomy 15:11, Moses adds another layer to this discussion: ‘There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.’ Having just said that the Israelites wouldn’t have poor if they followed God’s commandments, it seems like Moses is making a contradictory statement. But in all probability, he was saying that even if we have no poor among our people, surely citizens from other nations will come to us for help. So, either way, they could count on having poor people in their midst.”

We do need to communicate reality. Yes, we desire poverty to be eradicated and homelessness to be eliminated, but we have a greater purpose. We are working in the midst of poverty and homelessness to transform lives. We are involved in government—and will remain so—to continually tell the stories of those on the streets ravaged by drugs, confused by mental illness, stymied by bad choices. We are involved in government to influence legislators to allow faith-based organizations to continue to do their work unfettered. But our chief goal is not the government’s goal. Ours is best summed up in the words of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “Rescue the Perishing.” She wrote this in 1869 after meeting some of the men at The Bowery Mission in New York City.

Few of us sing hymns anymore, but I invite you to pore over her lyrics and see if they are what’s driving you forward today. My favorite verse is the third. Which is yours?

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

Though they are slighting Him,
Still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Down in the human heart,
Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing,
Duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save.