Tag Archives: Habitat for Humanity

Toxic Charity?

Saturday I returned from a short-term mission trip to Denver with our youth. I was pumped by the diverse and intense experiences we had together serving the urban poor. I preached on how the week gave me a new perspective on prayer in yesterday’s sermon and how excited I am to see future mission trips.

Then this morning I read a short article in L Magazine titled: Toxic Charity. It is an excerpt from the book, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). In the article, Robert Lupton argues that many of the service projects that churches and nonprofits perform with good intentions are not really helping the needy. Americans work hard at serving others, but do rarely consider the outcomes of such service.

What is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined. The food shipped to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit — all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground — on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity — quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping. How? Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.

The article started me wondering about some of the service projects we assisted in Denver. One was the David Clifton Carpenter’s Cupboard, a food shelf in Wheat Ridge, CO. David Clifton was homeless for a time early in his life and had gone to churches for help. Afterwards he started a food shelf to help others like himself. But in my one day of service at his food shelf, I wondered if it was helping people transitioning out of poverty or was simply a “band-aid” that continued a cycle of dependency. From my limited observation it appeared that many families came every week for the free food.

Robert Lupton writes,

To be sure, not all charitable response is toxic . . .  But our compassionate instinct has a serious shortcoming. Our memory is short when our recovery is long. We respond with immediacy to desperate circumstances but often are unable to shift from crisis relief to the more complex work of long-term development. Consequently, aid agencies tend to prolong the “emergency” status of a crisis when a rebuilding strategy should be underway.

NewHabitatLogoOne agency that I believe has long-term development in mind is Habitat for Humanity. It seeks to transition people out of poverty by helping them move into home ownership. One of their mottos is “Not a handout, but a hand up.” Habitat home recipients must first complete 500 hours of “sweat equity” working on Habitat homes, complete a course on homeownership and sign a mortgage agreement that is not more than 1/3 of their income before receiving their home. Habitat is not toxic charity but transitional charity.

What do you think about charity and service for other?

Lord Jesus, teach us to love our neighbor in ways that honor you.

Habitat Joy

Jeremy at HabitatToday was fun. For the first time in a long while the Twin Cities had a full day of warm sunshine. I was able to enjoy it working outside on a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity work site. Eight members of Resurrection Lutheran joined fourteen others on a new build at 522 Thomas Avenue in St. Paul, MN. We pounded nails, cut boards and lifted roof trusses. We ate pizza and drank lots of water. As I said, it was fun.

I had the opportunity to lead a short devotion before the work began. I centered it on the book of Nehemiah and their rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after the exile. The people had become discouraged because their capital city was in chaotic disrepair. The most grievous symbol of that brokenness was their wall. For people of that time, a walled city was sign of protection and vitality.

IMG_20130613_090803We no longer need city walls for safety, but we still need to rebuild walls of shelter for others ins our city. The previous house at the Habitat site had become a drug haven and the city closed and condemned it. Now Habitat has the opportunity to rebuild and reclaim this neighborhood with a new home and enthusiastic homeowners. Though no homeowner has yet been selected for this home, I am confident that Habitat will select a family that will invest in their home and neighborhood.

My favorite verse from Nehemiah is “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). I experienced that joy today working with others and so thankful that their joy gave me strength.

Work CrewLord Jesus, lets us rebuild our city with your joy, strength and peace.


Habitat Day

Yesterday, five of us from Resurrection worked at a Habitat for Humanity house in St. Paul. In spite of the heat and humidity we hung sheet rock in the upstairs bedrooms. The challenge was learning how to put up ceiling sheet rock, especially above the stair case. Fortunately our crew had an excellent crew chief, Roger Henry, who showed us the right techniques and special tricks to get the job done.

Roger Henry

I have known Roger for over a decade. He has been a long-time volunteer and champion of Habitat for Humanity. He brings his own tools to the work site and gladly teaches novices like myself how to use them. He knows that most Habitat volunteers are not skilled construction workers and that he could probably do the job more easily by himself. Yet teaching others is one of his passions and joys. I like working with Roger (but please don’t tell him that!).

I also have an abiding passion for Habitat for Humanity. I believe in its mission to build safe, affordable housing for people in need. They do NOT give away homes, but they invest in people. Any potential home owner needs to put over 500 hour of sweat equity into the organization, he or she needs to attend classes about home ownership responsibilities, and the family will have a mortgage when they move into the home. As Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat, once said, “Habitat is not a handout, but a hand-up.” The modest house we worked on yesterday is only 1400 square feet and will probably house a family of five or more. Twin Cities Habitat has built more than 850 since its inception in 1985. Learn more at their website.

Hard Work and Good Food

And whenever I have worked at a Habitat site, I have enjoyed a great lunch!

As I reflect on the day, I am extremely thankful for organizations like Habitat for Humanity and for individuals like Roger Henry. They are expressions of hope and joy and make me smile. In a world that often seems dark and foreboding, they shine with the light of Christ.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matt. 5:16

What people or organizations give you hope in today’s world?

Lord Jesus, may we together shine with your light of hope.

Walking with Jesus in Jamaica

Someone once asked me , “Do you enjoy running every time you go?”   I had to stop and reflect for a moment.  My answer was, “No, not every time.  In fact there are many runs that I don’t enjoy at all.  But there are enough moments of joy and peace that I continue to lace up my running shoes and head out.”  And now, as I struggle to complete my physical therapy and watch the snow melt, I especially miss the joy of heavy breathing and quickly moving feet.

I believe the same is true for our walk with Jesus Christ.  Not every moment is filled with love, joy and peace.  In fact our connection to Jesus will also connect us to the suffering and pain in the world.  I don’t think God calls us out of the world, but to deeper life in the world, the world he created and redeemed.

Learning to be patient with my Jamaican friends

For the past ten springs I led a mission trip to Jamaica.  Yes, I would spend some time on the beach soaking up the sun and enjoying the surf.  But Jamaica is a very poor country and I invested more time in parts of Jamaica that the tourist rarely see, helping to build  Habitat for Humanity homes.  The work certainly had moments of frustration and discouragement.  “What is one house among so many needy people?”  Still I knew from years of experience that one house, one life, one testimony can bear witness to the transforming love and power of Jesus.  As I listened to Jamaicans, I discovered their patient faith and joy. And those moments of joy keep me going through the tougher times.

Even as I struggle in the present with my lack of running, I am hopeful for the future.  I am confident that I will run again with Jesus.  I am confident that new international mission trips lie ahead for Resurrection Lutheran Church.  Patient trust in God’s mercy will provide the way. “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11 

 What has struggle taught you in your relationship with Jesus?