Hope for Tomorrow: Weighing our responsibility to help Florida’s homeless
by KEVIN BUMGARNER
Executive Editor

Article Date: Jul 31, 2014

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” I John 3:17-18
 
Near the end of my honeymoon more than 25 years ago, a man claiming to be homeless approached me and my bride asking for money.
 
My heart was torn at the prospect of somebody not eating if I didn’t help. So, my wife and I gave the man on the street the last $25 we had brought with us.
 
He disappeared into the crowd of the big city, and we never saw him again. To this day we have no idea what he did with the money.
Years later, and in another city, a man in need walked up to me as I was leaving work and told me he needed money for bus fare. I honestly told him I wished I could help, but that I didn’t have any money in my wallet.
 
Though looking disheveled, this man quickly told me there was an ATM right around the corner. Caught off guard and momentarily concerned for my safety, I told him if he agreed to stay by my car I would return with some money.
 
And, like most of us, I have been caught at a red light too many times to recall where someone was standing with a sign looking for a donation and a net to capture my potential generosity. One of my kids, moved by the number of people we were seeing, at one time actually made some kits containing basic hygiene products, Scripture references and a small amount of money that we kept in the car to be ready.
More than one Southern Baptist church where I have served has been involved in various homeless ministries. I have liked these more structured efforts because they can more fully represent Christ’s response to those who are hungry and hurting in what can be the realities of today’s harsh world. Other well-meaning people, however, remain skeptical about how much of an eternal impact we’re having with the less fortunate in our cities. 
 
A number of people from various Southern Baptist churches I have attended have been more interested in debating where my individual contributions to these people were really going, or how our church’s collective resources were being spent, than they were in thinking about ways to get help to people who would otherwise spend another night on the sidewalk with nothing more than a cardboard mattress.
 
My typical response to those who asked if I knew how my money was being spent goes something like this: “No, but I am sure that God will hold me accountable for loving the people around me, and not where the money goes that I give in good-faith efforts to apparent needs.” In other words, I am trying my best to do the right thing.
 
And, based on a Special Report written by Nicole Kalil in this issue of the Florida Baptist Witness, many of you are apparently reacting in the same way. In her story, “Shrinking the poverty gap,” Nicole found churches from the Panhandle to South Florida who are reaching out to the homeless populations in their area.
 
The need is great, but there is reason for hope.
 
Florida’s Council on Homelessness says we have the third-largest population of homeless people of any state in the nation.  At the same time, that population decreased 8 percent in the past year, to 41,335.
 
While the work of Southern Baptist churches is not specifically mentioned or credited in this state report, it is evident that more churches than ever feel the obligation to help a Social Service network that is overburdened and underfunded. And, most importantly, we have something no state agency can offer to that man, woman, boy or girl who may be living on the streets anywhere between Pensacola and Miami.
 
We can offer eternal hope.
 
Nicole talked with seven churches and ministries with a special focus on homelessness. The results of her reporting were encouraging, from the diversity of church efforts and number of people involved to the spiritual decisions that have been made and the truly statewide effort.
We cannot, we should not, want to leave the care of the most frail and insecure in our neighborhoods to government bureaucrats. They have neither the resources, capacity or in many cases the motivations to help the weary and downtrodden in a way that will truly help them break the cycle of despair in their lives.
 
James says our motivation as believers should be nothing more than an effort to connect works to our faith. In Chapter 2, verses 15-17, he puts it this way: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
So, while everything we do individually or as a body of believers to reach this disenfranchised community will not succeed, at least in the way we typically view success and in the timeframe we like to achieve it, our duty is to continue to live out our faith in a way that the world notices a difference.

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