The Salvation Army prides itself on doing the most good.  Here is a dissenting view reported by the Kansas City Star.

It is a type of view we are hearing more and more of these days.  I believe that from a community development perspective it has merit.  Bob Lupton’s Toxic Charity is rightfully challenging a number of Salvation Army leaders to a new macro-perspective of charity.  This is a good healthy challenge.

However, several years ago at a CCDA conference I listened to Dr. John Perkins temper any criticism of offering a cold drink in the name of Jesus by publicly affirming what the Army does.  He said unambiguously that there also is merit in the Army’s direct service.  charity condemned

There is one aspect critics are missing.  When all is said and done, when we have practiced theoretical correctness with this latest new discovery on how to do urban ministry. there yet remain individuals who do not respond at the time or in the situation to the effort and resources we invest in a community development approach.  We have failed.  But they are still hungry, cold, without a friend.  And often threatened by worse, in danger.

Does a person need to develop a friend-capacity before we befriend them?  Ridiculous.  The grace of God extended through the action of his people, just as God extended himself through his Son sent into and given to the world, gives opportunity for response, to receive.  So it is with home, food, warmth.  Personal safety.  There are times and they are more frequent than we like to think so when we simply have to offer a cold drink, clothing, a jail visit.  Community development is effective but it has its limits as to what can be done just as there are limits to offering direct service to meet human needs. 

What it comes down to is this.  It isn’t a matter of either community development or direct service.  It is a matter of knowing when to engage in one or the other.  We need to ask after rendering direct service whether we can do something about the causes of that need we’ve just met.  And quite often before we begin to develop a community there are hungry, homeless, friendless people who need food, shelter and God’s people. condemned 3

Dr. Perkins uses the illustration of pulling people out of the river as they float downstream, saving them from drowning.  Then we ask ‘what’s going on upstream?’  Community development is going upstream to find out why they are ending up in the stream, and doing something about it. 

We help when people are in a situation of need.  And we need to help people find ways to avert those situations. 

So, is it direct service or community development? 


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