Some Strings Attached

Last month, a team of us from VRM were able to attend a gathering hosted by Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Their mission is to provide “hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women.” It was fantastic exposure to an organization truly living out its purpose over the past fourteen years through its many social enterprises and programs. 

There’s no sugar coating a family history of gang involvement, drugs, violence, and prison time. These men and women are truly changing their family legacies by going a different direction. For us, we were able to hear these stories and best practices and translate that to our homeless services and substance-abuse recovery programs at VRM.

Our attendance at this gathering was very much intentional, since a new conversation has been brewing for while now in the “help vs. hurt” ministry we offer to those we serve. As Robert Lupton, founder and president of Focused Community Strategies (FCS) Ministries, says in his book, Toxic Charity: “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them. When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic.”

Toxic compassion? Could it be there are unintended consequences of helping the “least of these” among us? Lupton believes “no-strings-attached service needs some strings attached,” as mercy itself is, as he says, just a door — not the destination.

On a global level, there are some definite head-turning stats to support a holistic charity model. Lupton uses Haiti as a prime example. Somehow they have become 25% poorer after four decades of foreign aid totaling $8.3 billion. Another example is the entire continent of Africa, which has received $1 trillion in aid over the past fifty years ($20 billion per year). 

What about stateside? Surely we’re not falling into the same rut of dependence as those other places? Just last month, the Associated Press published a very insightful article on the subject entitled: “Food banks struggle to meet demand.”

Say what?

“U.S. food banks are expected to give away about 4 billion pounds of food this year, more than double the amount provided a decade ago.” Double? This increase is “surprising since the economy is growing.”

Lupton addresses this “surprise” well:

“Food in our society is a chronic poverty need, not a life-threatening one. And when we respond to a chronic need as though it were a crisis, we can predict toxic results: dependency, deception, disempowerment.”

VRM Graduates - August 2015


So what does this have to do with you and Visalia Rescue Mission? 

In the coming months, our team will be developing a two-part strategy:

  1. Graduating students from our Life-Change Academy who are better prepared to gain and keep employment. This may include a Learning Center and GED program, revamping mentorship opportunities, and recruiting businesses for internships. 
  2. Ensuring our homeless guests receiving meals and shelter are on a path from immediate crises to long-term development. 

Visalia Rescue Mission will always be a ministry of mercy, hope and restoration. The only thing we’re adding is the string of self-sufficiency: “…the struggle is like a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon, an essential strength-building process that should not be short-circuited by “compassionate” intervention.”

We hope you join us in this growing season and choose to impact this community with true life-change.


Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.