faithfully standing in prayer for our community

Faithfully Standing in Prayer for Our Community

Violent crime is nothing new to our twin cities, here in central Illinois, especially the last 5 years. While we may grow calloused to being bombarded constantly with news reports of tragedy, it hits a nerve when a child or teenager is struck down as was the case recently.  As people try to solve issues on the political level, what is the spiritual role and responsibility of the Church?

Throughout history, God’s people have had a habit of getting off track.  In those moments, He sought to raise up a servant with a prophetic voice to return them to their proper place to fulfill their purpose.  We see Ezekiel as one of those people charged to call the Israelites to attention: “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, BUT I FOUND NO ONE” (22:30)

In those days, cities needed to be defended.  If there were no natural defenses they built walls, sometimes 15’-25’ thick and 25’ high.  Walls were an indication of a city’s strength and ability to fend off attacks.  Atop these walls were watchmen constantly scanning the horizon who would warn of impending danger.  They were the first line of defense.  But due to corruption and wickedness in Judah, no one was found to fulfill this crucial role.  They weren’t available to perform their duties and failed the people of the city who relied on them.

In the same way, much of the Church has grown worldly and apathetic.  Not only have we failed to diligently stand on the wall, we’ve been negligent in protecting anyone except ourselves.  The WALL is the prayers of the Church lifted up for the people of the city from the weakest to the strongest, youngest to the oldest.  The voices that cry out against moral decay and compromise, leading the way to true repentance, and multitudes seeking after God.  Then we will experience His justice and peace.

God is searching out the courageous who will stand on the wall and fight for their city–against an enemy who is ruthlessly trying to destroy His people.  Individuals, small groups, congregations…all are being called up for active duty to drop to our knees and pray.  Our cities don’t need our programs and one-time events which are ultimately self-serving.  They need us practicing 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Matthew 28:18-20.  Until then, the enemy is free to do what he wants.

Two Reasons to Volunteer as a Group at Salt & Light

At the beginning of Salt & Light’s existence as an organization, we were a typical food pantry and clothing closet. This type of operation functions as a large, assembly line style business, and so for the first ten years of our existence, our operating model was perfectly suited to utilizing large groups of volunteers, all being assigned to sort clothes, unload boxes, bag food, or some other uniform task. Churches, youth groups, Scout troops, corporate staff teams, student organizations, class field trips, mission organizations, service fraternities, clubs, homeschool co-ops, and all kinds of groups came to lend a hand in accomplishing our weekly emergency distribution.

Now that we have changed our model to one that is focused on developing individuals and building community, the inner workings at Salt & Light are more complex. People often wonder, is it still a good place for our group to come and volunteer together? The answer is yes, for two important reasons.

The first is the way that having groups of volunteers benefits Salt & Light. Our operations have grown exponentially in the past several years, and we have kept our staff lean—just around 40 paid staff for the entire organization, both locations, including everyone all the way up to the Executive Director. As a result, our stores are primarily staffed by volunteers seven days a week. Many of our regular volunteers are members who are earning credit here to spend on their groceries or household items, but we still need community volunteers to manage all the daily tasks involved in running our programs. A group of volunteers together can help us accomplish a lot in a short period of time. The entire group may work together to sort an enormous backlog of household or clothing donations. Or, they may be split up into smaller groups, some working in the thrift store, some in grocery, some in donations, and some directly helping customers. Either way, there are a lot of bases to cover every day, and a volunteer group goes a long way toward getting them covered.

It’s not just the work that volunteer groups get done, though, that is an important benefit to us at Salt & Light. When groups visit us here, each one gets the opportunity to hear from one of our staff about what we do here—how our programs work, the amazing things that are happening in our buildings every day, how their volunteering will be a part of it—and to take a tour of our facility. It’s our experience that this makes a huge impact in getting our message out to the community. While people often hear about what we do on the news or social media, or in churches or community groups where we speak, it is completely different to come to our building and see, hear, and experience for yourself. No one goes away untouched. For this reason, volunteer groups who come to Salt & Light are almost inevitably moved to get engaged in our mission. Not only is that same group likely to return, but people in the group tell their friends about us and post about us on social media. They donate and shop. They bring other groups that they are a part of. In many, many ways, groups come back.

The second reason Salt & Light is a good place for your group to volunteer is because of the way it will benefit your group. The time you spend together, if it’s spent looking beyond yourselves, at a way to invest back into your community and accomplish something worthwhile, will be an experience that is satisfying individually, and bonding communally. It is inherently a team-building experience. Not only that, but it’s likely that your time with us will be one of learning. Like the preschool class that spent an afternoon with us processing purses, bags, and backpacks while also practicing buttons, zippers, and snaps, it’s our goal that the experience of every one of our volunteers will be uniquely beneficial in moving toward new skills and development. This may mean learning how to do a new task, and it may mean growing in an ability like patience or persistence or teamwork. We hope it will also mean building new relationships that may be lasting, and that we believe are the foundation for personal growth.

And the most important benefit to your group we hope will be the challenge you’ll be offered for the future, to live intentionally, relate respectfully, and engage your community in ways that are healthy and strong. While you will definitely go away with a fun and satisfying experience for one day, we believe that the ideas we are promoting, the principles we value, the relationships we foster, and ultimately, the people we bring together, can be a change experience for a lifetime.

To serve with your group at Salt & Light, contact me by email at lisa@saltandlightministry.org.

Volunteer Spotlight – Chris Harrison

Chris has been volunteering at Salt & Light for about 2 years. He performs multiple tasks including working in the admin office, handing out locks and vests, makes copies and keeping the copier filled, restocking the restrooms, cleaning and organizing our break room, accepting donations, and helping on the truck.

But Chris’s biggest job here is talking to people. He loves getting to know their stories. You can always find him talking with someone and joking around with them.

Chris loves serving with our team and can be found in our Champaign store regularly.  On the wall in our our processing area (also shown in Chris’s picture) it says, “Let the light shine by helping those in need”. Chris says that’s why he is here…to help others.

the real question of poverty

The Real Question of Poverty

 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about poverty.  It seems like there is ongoing controversy about what can be done to help those in poverty.  Although lots of people from all kinds of different philosophical and religious backgrounds feel it’s important to help the poor, and all are approaching the issue with good intentions, just as with most things that are truly important, there are strong disagreements regarding how to go about it.  I don’t mean to minimize the efforts of all those who are working hard and often making great sacrifices to do what they feel is in the best interests of America’s poor, but I wonder how often we are jumping the gun by debating the question of methodology before answering a much more important question.  I think that before we can truly know anything about how to help those in poverty, we first have to ask, exactly what is poverty?

what really matters

What Really Matters?

In Matthew 22, we find this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees:

34But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

While most of us in the church are very familiar with this passage, our application of it can vary wildly—especially the part about loving your neighbor as yourself. Certainly, there is plenty of latitude here for a broad range of applications; however, I fear the diversity of application has less to do with theological interpretation than it does our desire to make it fit our personal conveniences.

To love someone like Jesus is talking about requires action, and not a passive when it’s convenient for me kind of action, but a relentless till it hurts kind of action. It is one thing to wax eloquently about our convictions on Sunday morning, but an entirely different thing to not only be inconvenienced by them, but actually sacrifice something on their behalf.

We serve a God who sacrificed everything. Who loved us so much, He sent His son to die. If our love costs us only marginally, how deeply can it possibly run?

Hunger isn’t What You’ve Been Told it is Part 2

salt and light ministries Urbana, IL

hungry          adjective / hun·gry / ˈhəŋ-grē

  1. a: feeling an uneasy or painful sensation from lack of food: feeling hunger (merriam-webster.com)

In Part 1 I revealed the misleading marketing used by those benefiting from the
hunger mythology, and how that marketing has influenced misperceptions of the realities of hunger in the U.S. These misperceptions have prevented the public from
1) understanding the real problem our communities are facing, and therefore, 2) fairly evaluating the efficacy of the programs we have employed to address it.

At a minimum, this misleading marketing is a serious breach of the public’s trust,
and more seriously, it is a disservice to the individuals who struggle to meet this basic need.

In the ten years Salt & Light operated as a typical food pantry what I came to realize was the majority of individuals standing in our food pantry line were not facing crisis situations requiring emergency relief. Instead, they were more often in a state of chronic need—which required a more developmental solution. Something else I learned through my own experiences was that if you intervene in a chronic situation with an emergency intervention (giving stuff) you develop dependency and create entitlement. Period. More importantly, one-way giving models to address chronic need diminish and disempower the very people they are trying to help.

So what are we to do?

Many people are struggling to meet their basic needs. Many people do need support, sometimes significantly, if they are to affect lasting change in their lives. The question isn’t whether or not people need help; the question is, “What is the best way to help?”

The reality of poverty is that it is very complex. For every family we encounter at
Salt & Light there are multiple factors contributing to their material poverty. From systemic injustices to personal choices, no two situations are exactly alike, so no one solution is going to “fix” it. Therein lies the problem. Not only are the programs we have employed to address poverty generally unhealthy, they do not allow for individualizing our response. An emergency room where every patient was treated as though they suffered from the same ailment would be unfathomable, yet that is exactly how we have approached poverty alleviation—and the results have been devastating.

Hunger isn’t What You’ve Been Told it is: Part 1

Salt and Light Ministries Champaign, IL

hungry          adjective / hun·gry / ˈhəŋ-grē

  1. a: feeling an uneasy or painful sensation from lack of food: feeling hunger (merriam-webster.com)

You have probably seen countless commercials, billboards, and advertisements lamenting the number of people suffering from hunger in the U.S., and if you’re like me you have felt some degree of shock, outrage and responsibility to do something about it.

The problem is, the messaging simply isn’t true.

Before you read any more I want you to picture all of the images that come to mind as a result of the advertisements and “public service” announcements you see and hear regarding hunger in the U.S. At the end of this article I want you to compare these marketing-induced images with the realities of the majority of those standing in our food pantry lines. When you have done this, you can decide for yourself whether we are being misled.