detached no longer; going beyond donate and evangelize

Detached no longer: Why I’m going beyond donations and “outreach”

A plea for Christ followers to walk into the midst of their communities and lift up the often “faceless.” Let them meet Christ through you: personally, actively, and intentionally.

{Guest post: For more on this writer, see bio at end.}

Justice is inextricably linked into our faith.

This is not a particularly controversial thought. Verses about helping the needy are easy to find in Scripture and quick to the tip of the tongue. Phrases like “the least of these,” “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are so intensely familiar to many of us.

Hang onto that feeling for a moment—the feeling of familiarity, knowing those concepts like you know the texture of the cover of your Bible.

Hang on especially if you’re someone like me, who grew up in the Church, who heard countless sermons on giving, and who memorized the Word in Sunday School and AWANA.
Someone like me, who grew up in a city that is 85 percent white and where the median family income is almost $70,000 (about $20,000 higher than average).
Someone like me, who rarely has to think about food and clean water being readily available.
Someone like me, whose biggest fear when getting pulled over by the police is that I might actually get a ticket.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with where or how I grew up; we don’t control those aspects of our lives. Moreover, I used to think that I had done well to get out of my bubble and lift up my community.
I went on mission trips.
I bought school supplies to donate when the church had a drive.
I made paper Christmas decorations to send into prisons.

Wasn’t that helpful to my community?


Yes, but.

How? Who? To what degree?

The idea of the tie between faith and justice does, sometimes, come with a controversial application. It is where the unfamiliar meets us. It is in the community where we are. It is in the social pariahs, the untouchables, and those with whom we’d just rather not associate.

A heartbreaking, eye-opening conversation

I am not a minister, or a great face of a movement, or a missionary. I am one piece in the expansive organism of believers.

I do, however, make representations as soon as I identify myself as such. I (should) represent a small fraction of what God’s love is, immediately, to whomever is with me. I should be concerned with what conclusion someone reaches when they think “Christian” and learn to associate that with me.

In my first semester of law school, I remember being part of a conversation that dealt with the oppression of racial minorities and immigrants. I was not the loudest voice in that discussion (which may be shocking to those of you who know me personally). I confess it was not because I was humbly stepping aside; it was truly because I did not have the necessary personal experience to comment.

The media does a sort-of-okay job informing us about conflict and struggles between people groups (it’s often very “not here” and “not me”). Anecdotes were not fitting in that moment. Experiences of friends were not appropriate for me to retell.

I instead got to listen to the struggles, stigmas, and hardships that classmates and new friends personally went through. Then, I heard other students decry those hardships in the face of the vile stories and devastating vulnerability just shared. Walls went up.

I was heartbroken to hear that many of the students who seemed to lack empathy held themselves out as Christians. Sadly, no one around me was surprised by it.

That’s rough, isn’t it? I think that should be rough.

Breaking free from detachment

I won’t bore you with all the personal realizations and life events that led me to suspect that the needs in my community were not being well met by people of faith.

Suffice to say that I found many of those from the neediest and most marginalized communities often had negative impressions—or no real personal impressions—of believers. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.
Wasn’t I the very picture of donate-and-evangelize?
Where was my personal investment?
How detached was I, to think of “helping the needy” as some amorphous goal about faceless people?

The New York Times put out an insightful piece about whether churches were failing the poor. The results of outside studies were consistent with what I have begun to learn: churches and religious organizations do a tremendous job donating to charities and giving to world relief efforts (tremendous up to the point of billions-with-a-b dollars). Their work should never be minimized. Yet, religious practice and religious affiliations are dwindling at a higher rate among those in the neediest populations.

“A church that pays out to help the poor, but doesn’t pray with them, looks less like a church than what Pope Francis has described, unfavorably, as merely another N.G.O.”

That comparison sits heavily with me. Donations are valuable (so valuable) but maintain distance. Sometimes—I suggest more often—we need to meet the concrete needs of people who are not in the same bubble we are. The unfamiliar.

Let them meet Christ through us

“The needy” are not faceless.

They are the family ahead of you in the checkout line, the mother struggling to pay for her groceries because her monthly benefits card isn’t working.

They are the homeless people under your highways, unable to obtain proper care, standing by your car window and casting their eyes down.

They are the prisoners struggling to keep hope alive, and the ex-offenders living with shame.

They are the young, single, scared, pregnant women who need to know they have a way to handle this.

They are the foster children who are being tumultuously shuffled from house to house, never knowing when they’ll need to move again.

They are the refugees, victims of war and terrorism, desperate for safety here.

They are the people of color striving for equal dignity and for the shattering of stigma.

They are the victims of domestic violence who have not yet found a way to leave, and those who have broken free but live in terror.

They are the LGBT teens who were kicked out of their homes.

They are the drug addicts who have not yet found the help to quit, as well as those in recovery.

They are our neighbors—the ones we love as ourselves and to whom we give of ourselves and our abilities. Personally. Actively. Intentionally. No matter the space they are still in.

I submit that there is nothing more Christ-like or ministerial than this kind of love. I also submit that, as compassionate citizens and believers, it is the kind of justice that is inseparably bound up with our faith.

Perhaps after all these words, all I really have left is to implore you: be present as people. Not just on church-sponsored outreaches, not just as a donor. Your community members meet Christ through you.

Lift them up.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The needy aren’t faceless; they’re our neighbors. They meet Christ thru us, not just our donations” quote=”The ‘needy’ are not faceless; they are our neighbors. And they meet Christ through us, not just our donations.”]

About the Guest Writer


Hannah lives in Texas with her supportive husband and hyperactive dog. She is a (too wordy) recent law school graduate and is blessed to be increasingly surrounded by people who are different than she is.



See all the Guest Posts from this Summer Series:

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2 responses to “Detached no longer: Why I’m going beyond donations and “outreach””

  1. HB Avatar

    Love, love, love!! Both sides benefit and grow in Christ when we spend time together. Presence. Relationship. Tangible, personable love of Christ. Not just faceless donors and recipients. Also liked the how she related, that not everyone who is in need, “looks” like they are in need. Needs can often be so much more than monetary or physical. Great word!

  2. Julie Swirsky Avatar

    Great insights. You’ve come to conclusion as I have recently. Oh to have been your age when learning these things. Looking forward to hearing what else God will do with and through you!

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