Living in Santa Barbara puts a few things in bold relief – like, for instance, the homeless man or woman standing with a sign at the freeway offramp, next to an idling Mercedes or BMW. Or, how about the dog bakery that used to be on State Street? Think of this sad irony: seeing a man with a sign, reading “Hungry. Please help” sitting next to a dog bakery. It’s craziness! But, if one lives here long enough, the juxtaposition of rich and poor, beauty and tragedy, can seem a little ho-hum. And what about the poverty we don’t see? It is hidden in corners all around us in this breathtakingly beautiful, affluent city. Poverty –as an “issue”– can feel overwhelming when we consider how to respond. And so, we often do…nothing.
Fortunately, God has stirred the hearts of several members of our church family who have taken on different areas of ministry that serve the poor. Their passion has been contagious, and I want to share with you one way that it has spread. This year, the Gathering (women’s Bible studies) decided to commit to two local ministries that serve the poor in our own city. Through our “adoption” of these two ministries over time, we hope to (a) gain God’s heart for the poor; (b) encourage the leaders of these two ministries; and (c) to not only provide service, but –hopefully—build relationships over time with the ones whom we serve.
One ministry is the Kid’s Club (which encompasses the ministries of Querencia on the East Side, and the Goleta Homework Club). This ministry offers after-school homework tutoring through a mentorship program, and summer camps where the kids can play, build relationships, and learn about Jesus. Importantly, the relationships built with the kids throughout the year, extends to their families, most of whom are the working poor among us. Earlier in the year, Holly Gil organized a service day for us at the Gathering. The “service” entailed delivering 420+ Thanksgiving bags to families primarily on the Eastside. What a sight to see about 100 women of all ages and physical abilities, streaming back and forth across the parking lot, hefting heavy bags that would supply not just one meal, but many. (These families often stretch this one bag of 1-meal ingredients to last an entire week.) The gift to us entailed Holly telling us stories of the different kids and their families – what their lives are like day to day. We then broke into groups and prayed for them by name. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that I left that day knowing I had sat in God’s presence. His heart for the poor was shared with us.
The other ministry we have committed to serving (and being served by) is Community ONE:27. I will not go into as much depth here because Tracy Wilcox has written a great update on this ministry in this edition of the Community News – please read it! I will say that Community ONE:27’s vision for reaching out to orphans includes the many children currently in the foster care system here in Santa Barbara. Children in this system are among the poorest among us – on so many levels. We heard from Tracy, and from Margaret Polizo, who has directed the Royal Family Kid’s Camp (for foster kids), and we spent time writing cards for the RFKC kids, and assembling “journey-packs” for foster children.
Will it all make an impact on the larger problem of poverty in our community? Well, it certainly won’t erase it. However, our goal at the Gathering is to be God’s people. Part of this discipleship process is learning, first, to not turn away. Secondly, it means engagement. Thirdly, it will mean transformation of our own hearts to more closely resemble His. This usually doesn’t happen with a scatter-shot approach to service, but rather through the building of long-term relationships. These long-term relationships erase the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The ones we serve, serve us – by educating us about God’s grace and mercy, and often, about joy in the midst of trials.
Responding to poverty is simple obedience to God. How we do it need not feel overwhelming. Simply begin – and bring friends and family along on the journey! As a family, or a group of friends, consider “adopting” a ministry that touches the lives of those who live with next to nothing. Think creatively – get excited. I am looking forward to the years ahead, as the Gathering grows relationships out of these two ministries. It is God’s work to grow the fruit. Our job is simply to stay connected to the vine – and what a sacred adventure that is!