The theme this week at the Urban Forum is “Dignity or Dependence”.  This morning we gathered in downtown Toronto at the Army’s Harbour Light to hear several presentations including Bob Lupton following up from last night on the contrasting, and perhaps conflicting, views in urban ministry.  Service or community development?  Mercy or justice?  Is it really a matter of “or”?

Bob carefully challenged us, us many Salvation Army folks, to consider the short-term help but long-lasting disempowerment which charity alone brings to persons, families, and communities.  He shared stories and illustrations of well intended initial attempts to serve during his first years of ministry in inner city Atlanta.  He and his fellow workers discovered that giving did not address the root of need.  As a result they have to a large degree given up on giving, at least the kind of giving which diminishes the person helped.

The problem with one-way giving is that it progressively disempowers.  One person receives, there is not provided a way for that person to reciprocate.  This is not healthy.  The one who always receives cannot become what God intended them to become, they do not enter into full life, they are denied the opportunity to care for others in tangible ways.

Bob shared how their Christmas Adopt A Family program, food pantry, and clothes closet were transformed as they figured out ways to empower people, not merely provide toys, pass out food and clothes.  The food pantry became several food co-ops, and then led to a soul food restaurant now in its 28th year across from the Atlanta Braves’ field.

Bob Lupton’s words were inspiring, and sobering to realize that people who work with people need to, and can, examine what are we really accomplishing in helping others.  Are we somehow diminishing the one we are trying to help?  What can we do to act in such a way that people are brought to full value?  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Check out Focused Community Strategies (FCS), founded by Bob Lupton almost 40 years ago.