Archive for January, 2013


Wooing the Poor

Most of us have heard of wooing a man or a woman, but wooing the poor? Beggars can’t be choosers right? Shouldn’t needy people just be grateful for any help they can get? Why should we have to win their affections?

I talked to a man one day about his experience working with Habitat for Humanity (a great organization). He and other men worked for a week fixing up a badly damaged house. Each day he saw the young men who were inhabitants of the house out sitting on the porch. He began to take offense that these young men weren’t lifting a hand to work to fix up their own house. They sat idly on the porch while this man and others sweated and toiled to literally put a roof over the heads. The man told me that then and there he decided never to work for Habitat For Humanity again.

Years later I still remember this sad story. Recently I thought to myself, “Why didn’t he just ask them to help and offer to teach them how to swing a hammer?” Where the man erred in his thinking was assuming that these young men were ungrateful. Maybe they were, but we’ll never know. He made judgment upon their character, deciding that if they were really “good” people, they would offer to help. He decided that they weren’t worth helping.

“… many times the help we give others can actually shame them.”

In fact, I find that many times the help we give others can actually shame them. They feel embarrassed that they cannot help themselves and so retract. Many of the poor isolate themselves from society because they feel bad about the fact that they need help. This is where we have to look deeper and see that our job is to woo them.

When I was sixteen-years-old and first attracted to a cute young girl named Tracy Lucia, I immediately asked her to “go with me”. I figured, why wait for a date when we can just immediately go steady now? She was shy and didn’t know me, so she suggested we just be friends. I had enough friends and was way more interested in a girlfriend. That was when I began to woo her. I had to be patient. I had to be persistent. I had to get creative if I wanted this girl to be my main squeeze. Now about to celebrate my 20-year anniversary with Tracy, my wooing really paid off. But am I off the hook now? I am realizing that if I want our marriage to be vibrant and alive for another 20 years, I have to keep wooing my wife.

Sometimes when engaging the poor, we can get lazy and avoid the hard work of wooing. We want a person to take the help we give and explode into an upward trajectory towards personal enlightenment and success. We shouldn’t have to convince them to take the right steps forward. They should just go for it. When they don’t, we grow increasingly cynical. This leads to despair and discouragement that can ultimately lead us to isolate ourselves from the poor. It’s ironic isn’t it? We can easily tag others as being lazy, yet when it requires extra effort for us to love them, we can’t see that same flaw in ourselves.

Jim Berry wooing a friend in the Bronx

“We aren’t speed dating the homeless.”

At The Relief Bus, we are in the wooing business. Eleven times a week we take these Mobile Homeless Outreach Centers into New York City and New Jersey. We use these silly buses in a long-term, consistent way to show tangible love to the poor. We aren’t speed dating the homeless. We are in for the long haul. We use slow, steady, methodical wooing methods to tenaciously press through the walls that people have erected to protect themselves.

In order to woo someone you have to understand what makes that person tick. Like a detective, you have to pick up on what they like and don’t like if you want to be successful. Woe to the man that buys his lady the type of flowers that she hates. What’s to hate? They’re flowers right? Wrong.

A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t loving, it’s lazy. Love is hard work, but it’s great work. If you want to woo someone, you had better be patient and you had better be kind. Don’t forget how incredibly patient and kind Jesus was with us. Forget the “was” part, Jesus is constantly wooing all of us. We tend to stray and He gently keeps pulling us back to himself. We don’t deserve this thing called grace and neither do the poor. What’s “deserve” got to do with anything anyway? “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” -James 2:13

Get wooing. Woo woo!

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