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This weekend I taught at Write Canada, the Canadian Christian writers' conference. I love going there and just networking with people, and it's a great getaway. But I don't always go to the sessions; I usually just hang out in the lounge and talk.

Anyway, on Friday night I decided to go, and I'm so glad I did, because Tim Huff, a man who works closely with the homeless and who has just written some award winning books, was speaking.

I have to admit to having my guard up a little bit, because I often don't agree with "poverty advocates". They say we need more homeless shelters, more money spent on single mothers, and in general just more money for everything. But the facts don't bear this out, because in the places where they have spent more money, homelessness has increased (just look at San Francisco). Nevertheless, most poverty advocates do this.

But Tim didn't. He said something absolutely brilliant.

You know how sometimes there's something you instinctively know, but have never been able to put into words? That's what he did. And here is what he said:

The problem of poverty in North America is not one of poverty of resources. It is one of poverty of relationships. We have plenty of money and plenty of stuff. What we don't have is community. And he pointed at a man in the audience, whom he knows well, and he said, "If tomorrow Larry were to lose his company, and lose his store, and the bank foreclosed on his house, Larry would not be homeless. I would not let Larry be homeless. I would say to Larry, "come and stay at my house. I won't have you living out on the street." And there are dozens of others who would say the same thing, because Larry has supportive friends and family.

But some people don't have that. And so they end up on the street, or hopeless and on welfare and really struggling.

But the government doesn't understand that. And he said, "we will never cure poverty by trying to address poverty of resources. We need a mindshift where we look at poverty of relationships."

He's so right. I know a 20-year-old young woman who got pregnant this year (sort of on purpose, if you know what I mean). She is living with her parents, who are going to care for the baby while she takes a two year degree program at a college so she'll be able to get a decent job.

But take a 20-year-old woman who is just out of foster care, or whose parents are both on their third live-in relationship this year, and she's not going to have that kind of support. She'll be on welfare with no job training and little chance for anything else in her life.

And it struck me: this is why I do what I do. My girls and I have done some soul searching lately, because there are some in our church who are very good at reaching out to the marginal, and seeing new people become Christians (though whethre they grow in their faith is another story). We are more on the other side: trying to keep those who are Christians close to God and close to their families. I've dedicated pretty much all of my ministry to marriage; to trying to keep families together.

And I think that's an important piece of the puzzle, because it's attacking the problem of poverty of relationship. We need close families to provide community, so that people do have a social safety net. The government can never provide that adequately, because the government can't make up for family. And in a safe family you learn how to have close relationships, and how to serve, and how to grow. And you're not nearly as hurt in your soul as those who grow up in very dysfunctional homes.

We have a major problem with poverty of relationship. I have close friends who live next to an elderly woman with a quasi-abusive son. She has no other friends (she's an immigrant and doesn't speak English well). She's a widow. She really has no idea how banks, or the government, or anything work. And she was being really taken advantage of. They've stepped in and stopped her son from taking all her money, and started getting her involved in their social network. Suddenly she has people to talk to and she has a church to go to again. I just can't imagine that woman, living all by herself, in that house, with no one noticing or caring.

That didn't use to happen because people felt a responsibility to their neighbours. I think we need that responsibility again. We need to feel like we are a community, because that's how we grow and share. And so I'm wondering: how can we start to solve this problem of poverty of relationship? Have you ever done anything on your street, or in your community, where you've reached out to someone who really was alone? Let me know in the comments, and let's talk!

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At 3:12 PM , Blogger Svar said…

This is a good article, Sheila. I've wondered about this quite a bit. It's rather difficult to have a sense of community in modern America(or Canada but I don't know much about Canada) where most people have a careerist mindset(as opposed to a traditional familyand community oriented one) and tend to move around looking for jobs. On top of that, most people, including the middle-class, look to the government as their safety net. To create an organic community outside of small towns and within cities and suburbs is a very difficult task. Also, where would you start? I can see communities being built around small churches or large but intensely devout ones like the RCC.


At 4:45 PM , Blogger Stacy Lynn said…

It's nice to hear that there are those out there who understand this principle, but I fear we are far out numbered by those who don't. When we made the decision to leave our last church the pastor wanted to know why. I told him it was because we didn't feel like we belonged or had any sense of community within the church. He wished me good luck (sarcasticly) in our hunt because, he said, the church doesn't feel that need any more. All I wanted to ask was why not??


At 4:46 PM , Blogger Stacy Lynn said…

...fill that need. The church doesn't FILL that need.

It's been a long day. :)


At 4:57 PM , Blogger Svar said…

Stacy, did your pastor not even see the lack of community as a bad thing?


At 5:06 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

I do wonder why the church doesn't fulfill that role anymore, but I wonder if it's partly because the church isn't the centre of community anymore? Back in the days when churches were smaller and served basically everybody who lived within walking distance, churches were genuine community centres. Now people sometimes drive 25-45 minutes to get into church, and they're not real "community" centres anymore. And I don't really know how to get that back. I feel like I have community at my church, and that there are people I could call on in a pinch, but then, I'm well connected because I serve. For people who aren't as well connected, I wonder if that is still the case? And is that their fault, or is it ours? I don't know.


At 5:37 PM , Blogger Nylse said…

i struggle with the community/church issue also.
if our common theme is christ, one would think that there would be community. i think nowadays we're overcomplicating church and in the process losing all the basics. as a church we barely take time to nurture and feed ourselves - so how can we do it for those outside that are hurting?
this weighs heavily on my mind.


At 10:48 PM , Blogger Tillie said…

I did a blog post this past December about community and reaching out to others as well. That post was specifically about doing a "pounding" - but also the question of "why has no one heard of this any more" and the answer comes down to the precise point of your article here.

My article is here:

And a post about the blessings of helping others - inspired by the giving woman my own mother is, in spite of the struggles of hardship she has. Even as she is at risk of losing her own home, she gives her last dollar to someone who has already lost his. May we all continue to see messages such as these and learn from one another in order to rebuild our communities!


At 11:28 PM , Blogger Kari said…

This is a great article, and I have to admit it makes me sad. I have been attending the same church since I became a Christian 11 years ago, and I met my husband while we were both working on staff there. We were very involved in a number of different ministries, including leadership roles, but have had to cut back our involvement completely due to an illness I developed while pregnant with our second child. At this point, we can barely manage getting to one service on Sunday morning. We have been so incredibly disappointed in our congregation, as we have been given no care over the past three years...not even someone checking in to see if we are managing okay. It seems as though we have been disregarded now that we can't jump at every service opportunity that comes up. The part that is the most worrisome to us is that if we have been treated this way, we can only imagine what is happening to those that have never been connected into our church body.

I really think most of it boils down to busyness. Folks have so much going on in their own lives that they have no time for taking on anything else.


At 11:56 PM , Anonymous Lisa said…

How thought provoking and I totally agree. This article put words to why I do marriage ministry today. When I was separated and even divorced my community support wavered a lot. When things were the worst, I was alone and no one told me it could be better. I learned on my own how God heals restores and forgives. Now I try to reach out with a sense of community with Wives On Purpose. I hope it makes a difference! Thanks for sharing I think this is soooo important.


At 12:05 AM , Blogger shale said…

Wow. Great stuff from everyone. The thing that struck me was how far the church has come from the early days when "they were known for how they loved one another." The only thing that occurs to me in response is to make sure that *I* and my family are loving and being outward focused more than we have in the past, and encouraging those I'm around to do the same. If we all do that, we have little lighthouses of loving relationships that may encourage others to step up as well. Acknowledge the problem and stop the cycle in my home, and train my kids to do the same in theirs. And pray. It's a start.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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