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We Need Each Other

After a mission trip or an enriching act of charity, have you ever heard someone say something like, “I was expecting to serve them, but really they gave me more than I gave to them”, or “in the end they taught me more than I ever taught them”. Have you ever heard of or personally experienced this unexpected exchange? I certainly have.

Although these words may ring true for many of us, I wonder if we really believe them? If we really believed those we serve have more purpose to offer than just a place for our modest acts of charity wouldn’t we then elevate the power and influence of their voices in our communities and their leadership structures? If those we tend to serve offer a vast reservoir of wisdom and strength, should they not lead and serve us instead of the other way around?  Based on my own experiences, sometimes I wonder if those experiencing poverty and homelessness are better equipped to run their own shelters and even their own department of housing in city hall.  

Greg Paul, a Pastor of Sanctuary Church in Toronto, also believes these words. Once he even went so far as to make this daring statement: “the rich need the poor more than the poor need the rich.” In time, he experienced a correction and concluded, ”we both need each other.” In his book, The Twenty Piece Shuffle, Paul compares the Christian life to a journey in which both those in material poverty and those in material prosperity are travelling partners. On this road trip, there are certain markers to help travelers on the way. On the way we move from Isolation to Intimacy, Productivity to Fruitfulness, and Suffering to Glory. 

Isolation, productivity and suffering, though universal, manifest themselves in different ways for those of differing economic backgrounds.

Paul argues that all of us, regardless of our economic status, are invited to the transformations found on the journey. Isolation, productivity and suffering, though universal, manifest themselves in different ways for those of differing economic backgrounds. A man who is homeless feels the isolation of being considered “disfiguring cancers on the face of the city” by the housed.* Others who have nice homes, rather, may feel the isolation of not being understood by their spouses or they may feel unsafe to share the frightening thoughts intruding their mind. Paul argues that what one lacks, the other has. He says, “I believe that God urges the rich and powerful to care for the poor and vulnerable throughout Scripture because we each have what the other needs. He is so adamant and voluble about it that I must conclude that we can hardly expect to get ‘There’ unless we travel the Way together”.** While the person who is housed has been accepted by wider society, the person who is experiencing homelessness has an unfiltered and completely transparent relationship with their street family. Each has what the other needs. 

In terms of productivity and fruitfulness, while someone who is housed may look productive in society, their heart can be utterly devoid of meaning. Also, a person who lacks a home may experience shame for “not making it in life”, while, at the same time, also blind to all the ways they are a blessing to those around them. 

In terms of suffering and glory, a person who is housed may stuff their pain and hide their suffering in order to be less disagreeable to their peers or to be more accepted at church. A person who is homeless may be so consumed by their pain that their path to glory is clouded by the numbing power of addiction. Each has what the other needs. While the housed person may be able to affirm the value of those excluded by society and have time and resources in themselves to journey with someone in their addiction, the person without a home can model unreserved vulnerability and the power of lament. Paul sums this up saying, 

“The reality, of course, is that the rich are usually, because of their riches, barely conscious of their deep poverty and the consequent invitation to embrace their true identity in relationship with their Maker that can be found only in those depths. And the poor (at least in a first world culture) generally have little sense of their blessedness, the amazing gifts they have to share with people who appear to them to already have it all”.***

I am very blessed to have many travelling partners along the way. While I try to remind them of their powerful and valued voice, they teach me the way of the kingdom which is often at odds with this cozy world-system. Who travels with you? What power and influence do these travelling partners have in your community, in your church?

Lord Jesus, the One who travels with us as Lord and Provider, light our way through the darkness and fill our path with many good friends.

 *Greg Paul, The Twenty Piece Shuffle, 64, 
** *** Greg Paul, The Twenty Piece Shuffle, 44 
Photo courtesy of the author.

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