The For The City Network staff has been going through the book Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller lately, learning how we can better extend mercy to those living in poverty. A lot of what we’ve been learning and dialoguing through I believe is quite insightful, and I wanted to share some of it with you all.

Mercy, by Keller’s definition, is the impulse that makes us sensitive to hurts and lacks in others and makes us desire to alleviate them. These “hurts” or “lacks” are what we call needs. Needs are dependencies. Keller says all human beings were created dependent beings. We are not self-sufficient; we are only adequate in God. If we had stayed in perfect relationship with God, we would never have any needs. But because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and letting sin into the world, the result are four different “alienations” that we experience. Keller defines alienation as “disintegration which arises from using an object for a purpose other than that for which it was designed.” If that is the case, man was originally designed to know and serve his Creator God. But when man determined to be his own master, the immediate result was “a multidimensional condition of alienation.”

After the fall, we suffered 1) spiritual alienation, our separation from God, 2) emotional alienation, separation from our true selves, 3) social alienation, the inability to live with one another, and finally 4) physical alienation, our conflict with the disorder and decay of nature.

When we look at the poor, we often only see the obvious, physical and social needs: they are homeless, they have no money, they have no food, they don’t have family or friends, etc. And while meeting these needs are important, I am learning that they don’t help the person all that much. When we asked people who were classified as “living in poverty” what their needs were, there answers reflected more on their hopelessness and loneliness, than on anything else. So what I, and the rest of the For The City team are trying to learn to do, is build relationships with the people we want to help.

I like what our director Justin Lopez said, “It’s not about feeding lines, unless the feeding lines allow us to build relationships.”

What they need most is a friend that will “bare one another’s burdens.” What I think helps me empathize and be a good friend is reminding myself that I am also living in poverty, it just looks different. Maybe my poverty isn’t as obvious as panhandling, but I’m still just as broken. And that’s important for them to know; they are not alone.

Our job as Christians is not to keep people from hitting bottom, our job is to love them.


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