By George Bowers Sr.
During the holidays, we are especially mindful of the blessings that we have received from our gracious God. As we reflect on these gifts, we are often moved to help the less fortunate. Many individuals and community organizations provide special help for needy families this time of year.
What many do not know is that most churches do this throughout the year. Most local congregations budget significant amounts of money for outreach purposes that impact and bless many annually. It is usually done confidentially to protect the dignity of the individuals helped, but every year, churches throughout the valley give hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions, to the needy in the form of groceries, services, lodging, medical care, utilities and cash.
In addition, many of the churches in our area provide meals for low income folks, including the Luke's Backpack program, the Elementary Feeding program, and others. Some also serve weekly meals at their buildings while others prepare and deliver meals. Many of the local food pantries, free clinics, used clothing stores, and other such programs were started, run, and/or are supported by many churches and Christians. The cost to government and society would be much greater as would be the extent of suffering if Christians were not actively involved in helping those in need.
Many churches also provide relief all over the world. Most denominations have already been on the ground in the Philippines providing emergency assistance and still others will come later to help rebuild. Some provide ongoing assistance to orphanages and medical missions in Haiti, Nigeria, Guatemala, and throughout the world.
Most churches would love to help everyone who calls, but sadly, tough decisions have to be made. It is not unusual for some churches to receive three to five calls per day from folks seeking assistance, and there simply are not enough resources to help everyone who calls. When folks are denied assistance by a church, there are often good reasons that may include the fact that the church's benevolence budget has already been exhausted or the individual requesting help has a history of abusing the system. Steps are taken to try to discern the true extent of each need as some unscrupulous individuals will pay their bills monthly by calling different churches with no accountability or responsibility. When this happens, simply giving money does not equate to long-term help and budgeting skills or other assistance may be more beneficial.
Many churches encourage and enable folks to become financially responsible. According to God's word, a person is to care for his or her own family if he or she is able. If they are able and do not do so, Paul says they are worse than unbelievers (I Timothy 5:8). He also said that if a person won't work he shouldn't eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). If, on the other hand, an individual is not able to work, that is an entirely different matter and these are the cases that require assistance. Determining the difference is not always easy.
Biblically, a church's first responsibility is to care for those in their own congregation. If funds are left, help can, and often is, extended to outsiders. If a person is a part of a local church, the opportunities to be helped and to help increase greatly. Fellow members are likely to know the true story and be more willing to help. In addition, this provides an opportunity for folks who are helped to help others in return. While they may not have financial resources, everyone can do something. Being connected to a local body makes all of this possible.
This article is not to toot the churches' horn, but to help the community realize the extent of services already provided by churches as well as the limitations they face. I encourage everyone to be involved in some church in order to worship and serve God and to serve others in obedience to Jesus. Blessings, George
George Bowers Sr. is the pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of four books, including his latest book of poetry, "Wit and Wisdom of the Woods." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.