Shane Claiborne once said, “You say you care about the poor… then name one.” This is a difficult task, especially when we live in a world where we’ve turned giving to the poor into an act akin to making a drug deal.
Let’s look at how we give to the poor. First, we usually open our closet and empty into a box everything we now hate, or won’t ever be caught wearing. Then we throw the box into the back of our SUV, drive to the part of town we don’t want to be in, turn down an alley, pull up to a loading dock, drop the box off and push a button, and then drive out of there as fast as we can. If we really want the tax receipt we might stick around and see someone, but more often than not we have given to the poor without ever actually seeing anyone.
But the truth is, the homeless and destitute are usually in that situation not because they are financially poor, but because they are relationally poor. If you became homeless and broke tomorrow, who would you call? That’s the difference. You have a name.
Relationships are what’s needed. Flesh craves flesh and humanity longs for humanity. Whether it’s volunteering at an afterschool program, taking a trip to Joplin or Japan, or spending a week at an orphanage in Kenya, the words you will hear most often aren’t, “Thank you for giving me this shirt,” but, “Thanks for coming,” “Thanks for being here.”
There is something to locality – human beings sharing the same space and time. Walking down the streets of Carrefour, Haiti, you feel thousands of tiny hands trying to grab yours, to vie for your attention, to walk down the street hand in hand, because as one old man put it, “If you touch me, you can’t forget about me.”
Volunteering matters because humanity needs humanity. People need conversation. No one wants to be forgotten. Because coins don’t hug and texts don’t shake hands. Because if you volunteer, someone else will too. Because doing something is inspiring. Because you need a better story. Because life matters. Because without it, nothing will change. Because a trip to any hurting place will shatter your heart into a thousand pieces…some of which will never leave. Because it’s time for a broken heart.