the odd relationship of help

Mound of Clothes

Everything in American culture is available on a consumer basis. You can do almost anything of which you can conceive at virtually any hour, any day of the week. Somewhere. Probably even online.


If you want to HELP, you can’t do that on your own terms. Help isn’t open 24/7 and it doesn’t offer free shipping for orders over $25 and it sure doesn’t care if your food was cold or if your sweater came in the wrong color. Help NEEDS you, but it doesn’t necessarily want you. It definitely doesn’t think long on whether or not you’ll achieve a great sense of fulfillment after interacting with it.

Your relationship with Help, until you realize and even embrace these things, will be a continual frustration. After all, you’re available from 10-12 on Thursday mornings. Why can’t you Help?

The room in the above photo is usually relatively empty. There are a few tables for sorting clothes there in the middle. Off to the right is a desk with a phone, currently about six bags deep. To the left, a wall unit air conditioner similar to what you’d find in a hotel room. After the tornado at the end of April, donations poured in to the only standing benevolence. This is the sorting room at Christ Chapel, a mission on the south side of my town of Ringgold, GA. Believe it or not, the clothes you see have already been sorted; the volunteers at Christ Chapel did it mostly in the parking lot and then brought the sorted bags to heave up on Mt. Donation.

In the weeks following the tornado in Ringgold, we discovered that our youth, due to federal regulations, would not be able to directly assist in the disaster recovery due to their age. What they could do was participate in ANY local mission effort available prior to the storm. We’ve had a very basic relationship with Christ Chapel for years; once a year we’d do a scavenger hunt to help replenish their food supply and one other time of the year we’d send a crew for 3 days during a mission event to paint or clean or sort or whatever for a few hours a day. You know, Help.

Renewed in purpose, we approached them with post-disaster vigor. We’re here to Help, we said. We can come on Mondays from 9-2:30pm. The chapel agreed, not wanting to turn down any assistance. I missed the first week due to a middle school youth trip; a devoted youth mom took the small group. The second week the group was equally small and we were out of stuff do Help With by about 11am. It was pretty hot, so their mild frustration at running out of work was tempered by the opportunity to head to some real air conditioning. Yesterday was our third week and, while our labors this week felt particularly Helpful, we were done again by about 11am. But something struck me differently this day.

About mid-morning, I was sorting old yogurt from a very tired refrigerator into a trash can to make way for a fresh load of day-old yogurt from one of our local grocery stores. The fridge had no ordinary means of opening save a remaining metal claw that formerly grasped the top of the freezer door handle. More importantly, the rubber seal around the door of both compartments appeared to take a path mapped by a squirrel trying to escape an automobile. There were zig-zag gaps all around the door.

“Bobby,” I asked the director, standing nearby. “How would you feel about me showing up with a new refrigerator to replace this one some day?”

“I’d dance like David,” he said. “I mean… well, I’d keep my pants on.”

And there it was. Not the pants thing. The part where I learned of a need for which I could actually provide assistance. There’s a free fridge on Craigslist about every 15 days. I should be able to hook him up shortly. But the larger truth has remains with me.

If you really want to Help, you have to be in relationship. Help comes to you, if you’re there. I think the truth, the hard truth, is that that we want to FEEL helpful. It’s the reason I was out the day after the tornado, cutting up a tree in the yard behind a church member’s untouched house. And the reason I spent the following Monday working myself to a near blackout in a different church member’s neighbor’s yard. I needed to FEEL like I’d responded. But Help is different, I think. Real Help goes beyond instinct into something else; Help sticks around to make sure that all Help is done.

The past two months have completely upset the picture I thought I’d been painting of what local missions looks like. I’ve been here for four years; there’s no reason that Bobby should still be suffering with that miserable refrigerator. We should have already been there.

Looking backwards, the lesson seems obvious enough. The real rewards always seem to be in relationship; why would it be any different with helping others?

Thanks again to all who have expressed support during these unusual and difficult weeks.

Peace to you all,


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