NEW PALESTINE — The Haitian seminary was abuzz with preparations. A team from the United States was coming, and their hosts were cleaning rooms and preparing American food. The team’s task: To tile a bathroom.
Bob Lupton, a Georgia pastor and author already visiting, asked how much tiling experience this group had. Between you and me, he asked the locals, is it worth it?
“We’re in their mission budget,” said his host, who feared that without giving the visitors a meaningful experience, the church might turn its mission dollars elsewhere.
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Lupton, however, saw a group spending $35,000 to “do a job that has to be torn up after they leave,” so it can be redone properly; instead, supporters could have hired local tilers for a fraction of the cost, he reasoned.
Lupton, founder of FCS ministries in Atlanta and author of “Toxic Charity” and “Charity Detox,” spoke to Love INC supporters Saturday night at the third annual Love Thy Neighbor Banquet. He shared lessons he’s learned in more than 40 years of work in the inner city, with a focus on how to do mission work that truly helps — and recognize that which does more harm than good.
He told the crowd gathered at Adaggios Banquet Hall and Conference Centre that he’s learned that if he gives someone something once, that person is grateful. With repeated giving, though, a person can begin to feel expectant — even entitled.
He saw that at work in his earlier years of ministry when opening a clothes closet. He saw people throwing elbows to get past each other and carry out armfuls of clothing. In response, organizers were forced to limit the number of garments and the number of visits in a month. There were requests for exceptions — something for children in school, or for an uncle too feeble to come. Suddenly, organizers found themselves in the position of guarding the goods from the very people they had been hoping to help.
“It turned into an adversarial relationship overnight,” he said.
Later, the closet was transitioned into a thrift store. The relationship turned positive one when it shifted from giver-receiver to merchant-customer. Before, the giver became guardian of the goods. Now, in a merchant-customer relationship, it’s OK if people are leaving with a lot of clothes — even at a steeply discounted price.
“The merchant needs the customer to buy all they can buy,” Lupton said.
He gave other examples of successful ministries, such as a food pantry that became a food co-op. Members pitched in $4 each, and Lupton’s organization was able to buy in bulk with those pooled funds, giving members more for their money. As it continued, members elected a treasurer and a secretary.
“The talents and abilities that have been there all along … were coming out,” Lupton said.
At times, the crowd at Adaggios fell raptly silent during Lupton’s stories. Surrounded by nonprofit leaders and community supporters, he knew his message might strike a nerve — but also open some eyes.
“I saw a lot of nodding heads” at different moments, Love INC executive director Jim Peters said after the banquet.
At one moment, when Lupton spoke of converting the typical Christmas toy giveaway to into a low-cost toy store for parents, he said, “There will be dignity in the process of exchange.” The audience applauded.
Mo Wildey also knows both the challenges of inner-city work and the satisfaction of seeing dignity restored. He is pastor and executive director of the Yeshua Society, a church plant of Brookville Road Community Church. Yeshua Society serves an area of Indianapolis bordered by Raymond Street, West Street and interstates 70 and 465.
Wildey said he read Lupton’s “Toxic Charity” when starting the ministry.
“When we first went in, we were doing the same thing — give away, give away,” he said. “(But) we just enable people to stay in a state of poverty.”
Wildey saw a man in his late 30s who knew where to find free food and clothes. But months later, the man approached Wildey at church and said he had realized he needed to get a job. Wildey noticed a newfound pride in the man.
“It totally changed his life,” Wildey said.
Just as Lupton pondered the cost of the tile trip, Wildey questions the effectiveness of some of the ways people attempt to offer help.
“What we’re doing wrong is thinking it can be a project to go into the inner city and help somebody,” he said. “If churches really want to help, they would do far more good … finding an inner-city ministry they could support (that’s there full-time).”
Wayne Addision, chief probation office in Hancock County, emceed much of the evening, including a trivia game about giving and need in the county. As an auctioneer who conducts various auctions to benefit charities, he has praised the generosity of Hancock County residents. Lupton’s address made him think about his own community involvement; Addison said he wrote a whole page of notes as he listened.
He agreed with Lupton, for example, that those giving toys to children at Christmas should think about parents’ dignity; as a volunteer with Toys for Tots, Addison pointed out that the organization lets parents pick up the toys and present them to their children. He also thought about ways in his work that he encourages people to take responsibility for themselves.
“I did like his idea of letting (recipients) do a little work for things,” he said. “Maybe these people that want to help need to understand that you can over-help.”
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For $20, banquetgoers could compete in a 20-question trivia game for prizes using the Kahoot website and their smartphones. Here are a few of the questions.
1. Of the 106 churches in Hancock County, how many are Love INC partner churches?
2. Love INC of Greater Hancock County assisted how many families in 2016?
3. How many Hoosiers are living in poverty (at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level)?
4. Which is the most critical Hancock County community issue according to a recent survey?
a. Food insecurity
c. Services for senior citizens
d. Health and well-being of children
5. Of the 25,943 households in Hancock County, how many are single-parent households?
6. According to Connect2Help 211, which Hancock County need went unmet the most in the year ended
c. Mental health/addictions
1. The answer is D. Learn more about how your church might become a Love INC partner at 317-468-6300.
2. The answer is D. Love INC started with nearly 200 families served its first year. Many families referred to its clearinghouse have multiple needs.
3. The answer is B. The last number (2,275,546) is how many Hoosiers are considered low-income. In Hancock County there are 1,371 children living in poverty.
4. The answer is D, with health and well-being of children given a ranking of 12.49 out of a possible 16 on a recent Hancock County Community Foundation poll. Child care and education were also ranked separately.
5. The answer is C. Of the total households, only 6,592 had children according to the 2013 census numbers. So nearly one-third of households with children are single-parent.
6. The answer is D. Although there were more calls for food, shelter and utility assistance (highest number of calls) those needs were more readily resourced than the need for transportation, which was unmet 38 percent of the time.