This is the time of the year when we hear of giving, listening to happy and/or inspirational Christmas songs and music, attending Christmas performances, watching Christmas movies, and when many spend a LOT of money on themselves, as well as a little on others. This is the time of the year when there are many “Drive-By” sharing of food and Christmas gifts with those who are less fortunate.
Drive-by sharing is when churches and others think about those who are disadvantaged and want to do something special, and many will drive-by again annually and do more for those hurting economically by lack of employment, underemployment, illness, racism, or by apathy. I heard of this term from some of the church groups and ministries who decided that helping during Christmas was okay, but many people hurt the other days of the year and need help year around in order for them to hurt less. Thus, the rise of what is called “relational ministries,” developed by Dr. John Perkins of Christian Community Development Association, InterVarsity, World Impact, Youth for Christ, Young Life, many Grace-named churches, and some other churches and organizations where their members become intimately connected with those they are helping. Some even move into the neighborhoods needing full-time help until they and/or the neighborhood can become self-sustaining. However, those in perpetual disenfranchisement and disinherited from the American Dream still stay in a black hole of poverty and despair if they are not adopted by outsiders; shown how to develop self-sustaining enterprises to stay where they are; and/or obtain education and/or training to equip them to move to better neighborhoods. And, for them, Christmas time is often painful, especially if they are not the chosen ones to receive adoption by a church, ministry, business group, or community organization.
Based on my personal observations and involvement for over 60 years in working with those hurting in our society, I have found some stories that need to be shared, as well as some observations those hurting have told me. I will share just one story to help others understand the plight of the underclass citizens who are so tremendously challenged that generations before them were so challenged that generations after them will also be similarly challenged—unless the 80% of those doing well make deliberate attempts to stop the cycle of poverty, punishment, pity, and poor choices that the other 20% of our country get released from this black hole of feeling disenfranchised. The good news is that the government will even give tax breaks to the 80% for doing good for others, unless taxpayers are happy to give that extra money to the government!
The stores I will share are true stories—the names are changed to protect their privacy: Mary has always been a hard-worker…her mother and father were hard-workers. However, her father had a fatal heart-attack after working on the same job for over 30 years. He and his wife never finished elementary schools because their parents needed them to help them as agricultural workers. Mary’s father eventually learned how to improve his writing and reading, learned enough on his own to make good friends. One of those friends took over his own father’s manufacturing plant and was in need of a janitor. Although a low-paying job for Mary’s father, there were benefits for Mary’s father and the family of seven. After some years, the manufacturing plant had decided to move overseas and since Mary’s father had not furthered his education to learn some of the automation equipment, he was released and given his pension that would last him until he died.
The job for Mary’s father made him feel important. They had purchased the house that they had been rented for years and had made significant improvements as the family grew. Mary’s father was one of the few men in their neighborhood who rose early in the morning, went to work, came home, paid the bills, was involved in church and community events, and stayed away from the lure of other women and drugs prevalent in such communities. After drawing his pension for one month, Mary’s father died, leaving just enough insurance for a nice funeral. However, there was no money to keep up the truck payments, the car for his wife, their furniture loans, the credit card debts, or for the loans for remodeling their house. Mary had wanted to go to college, but had a learning challenge so was happy cleaning homes with her mother.
The sudden death of Mary’s dad soon left the family in dire circumstances. Every year, a church group helped some, but it was not enough to keep everything the father had acquired. Three of Mary’s brothers saw no value in becoming a janitor or doing manual work and had chosen a life of crime, all winding up in prison. Mary’s sisters all had children, but for one reason or another, found themselves without a permanent man in the home, struggling just to make ends meet for them. Most of their children did not do well in school, felt stressed from being in poverty, but played games daily, hoping that would take them through school in order to get a scholarship to college, or to play professionally.
Mary wanted to do more since her mother’s health had been declining. The truck and car were repossessed. Mary’s older car kept stopping until it finally died, needing thousands in repairs, including a new engine. Mary had discovered that she was pretty good in art and had been given an opportunity to get training as a graphic artist while cleaning houses. However, she lived in an area where there was not public transportation and had difficulty getting to classes and then to her cleaning assignments. When she was injured in a hit-and-run, she was now suffering from her injuries, as well as from the family history of weight gain and diabetes. While recuperating at home, Mary’s mom had four heart attacks and died three times. Mary did her best for her mom and tried to catch rides to her training, but now cleaning houses was out of the question. Unable to find anyone to help repair the car with a new engine, a “friendly” car dealer put Mary and her mom in a new car. With the insurance, they only had to pay out a little over $600 a month. Although the payments took half of her mother’s Social Security, Mary and her mother had some pride again. With a new car in the driveway, neighbors smiled and waved again. When they were in this new car, others smiled at them as they went to the store, hospital and doctor’s visitors, and Mary could get to class. All those waving and smiling people did not know that Mary and her mother had almost cut out eating, and cut back on keeping the house in good repair.
A member of a near-by church would call on Mary and her mother almost weekly to check on them. This member discovered their lack—no phone, inability to stay current on utility bills, and little food to eat. Although the church helped some and was able to get others to help some, there were no resources to ensure that the two of them could be able to eat well-balanced meals daily. Since the television filled much of their free time, Mary and her mother watched other hurting families from Hurricane Harvey get help to get their homes rebuilt; got help to get reliable transportation (without payments of $600 monthly for the next 72 months!); get new furniture for Christmas; and get all kinds of food and gifts from churches, community leaders, businesses, and even some politicians. Mary and her mother was happy for them, and tried to console themselves with their crackers and jello—their dinner for the evening. Their curtains are kept drawn 24/7; they don’t feel safe leaving their home in the evening, with drug dealers next door; they don’t know quite how to ask for help because they have a house and a car. There is no Christmas tree; no presents; but Mary and her mom are thankful for the canned goods that a “drive-by” group donate monthly…they are on a waiting list for food from the local food bank. They just wished they had some fresh vegetables, some fruit, and some meat every now and then.
The television shows and news stories continues to show the prosperity of others, and how many are getting back on their feet after fires have consumed their homes, or floods have forced them to move into another home—full of new and donated items. They see and hear how others had help from their insurance, their savings, from family members, and from many others. Mary and her mother smile outside, watching the good fortune of others, and the wonderful Christmas movies, but on the inside, they are dying because every day they struggle to survive. However, having a nice-sized color tv set and a new car outside that they hope they can keep gives them some comfort as they look forward to going to a cold bed on a relatively empty stomach. Mary walks slow and her mother pushes herself along in her wheelchair.
This is just one of the many stories that I have become acquainted with, wondering how do we get the other 80% who may be enjoying their color television (paid for!), their car(s) (paying smaller payments and far less interest!), their jobs, their savings, and their ability to access resources to find ways to help the other 20% that need help to make better choices, enjoy life a little more, and not continue to suffer in the black hole of feeling disenfranchised, hoping that perhaps their family will be adopted by others who will show them how better to enjoy their part of the American Dream.
NEXT TIME: Go to the back door; the front porch is dangerous!