Serving in communities with great needs can produce an endless stream of requests for help. It is impossible to meet every request and sometimes what we offer is more hurtful than it is helpful. Below are some lessons I have learned along the way:
1. Come alongside–Don’t go ahead: It’s not helpful to want something for a person more than they want it for themselves. (I’ve wasted a lot of energy this way). Encourage and allow people to take steps in the right direction, then come alongside to help with each step. Don’t take the step for them.
2. Needs or Wants: Sometimes people can major in the minors. So a minor want can be communicated as a major need. It’s important to listen to the request and discern its necessity. Otherwise we can reinforce an unhealthy value system.
3. There is Love in NO: Love isn’t only found in ‘yes’. Sometimes ‘no’ is the most helpful and loving gift we can offer. Remember, God is love and leading people toward Him is to love them. Sometimes that requires saying no to something that would lead people away from God.
4. Urgent isn’t always Important: Just because a need requires an immediate response doesn’t mean it deserves the highest priority. Often the urgent request forces people to respond without thinking. If something is important, then it is important before it becomes urgent. Intentionally respond to requests according to it’s importance…not only its urgency.
5. Teach Someone to Fish: Maybe you’ve heard it before: “give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Be mindful to use the chance to meet a need as an equal opportunity to invest in a person. The greatest help we can offer is to equip someone to become self-sufficient, which is the invaluable gift of dignity.
6. Comfort and Character: Give space for character development. Every discomfort in life isn’t detrimental. There is priceless character growth in delayed gratification, earning something on your own, and persevering to attain a long pursued goal.