The Oath for Compassionate Service, Pt. 2

Last month, we introduced Robert (Bob) Lupton and his first of six points found in his “Oath for Compassionate Service” — #1: Never do for others what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves. Bob was gracious enough to join me for an over-the-phone interview (which you can listen to now HERE) and had a response to how VRM is addressing panhandling and the needs of the homeless on Visalia streets.

VRM: One thing we started with our Help That Helps campaign, is to share with people, “There are resources for people who need food and shelter — don’t give those things on your own because it’s typically within an unhealthy context — like the side of the road, street corner or at a drive-thru — but direct those people to a healthy context so they can see what the next step looks like. Does that make sense?

BOB: It makes perfect sense and it fits exactly where I have come to over the years. I have seen in our own ministry, and certainly others, a downward spiral that happens with one-way giving.

It was at this point Bob discussed number two in the Oath, which he goes on later to support with various examples: 

#2: Limit one-way giving to emergency situations

  • Give once and you elicit appreciation
  • Give twice and you create anticipation
  • Give three times and you create expectation
  • Give four times and it becomes entitlement
  • Give five times and you establish dependency

BOB: I’ve seen that downward spiral take place time and time again. That kind of one-way giving is ultimately destructive. It deprives a person of their sense of dignity, it erodes their work ethic, and I have come to the same conclusion that you have — that we need to get out of that one-way giving and instead give them step-by-step opportunities to change their situation. For us, we had to make a distinction between what is a real crisis and what is a function of chronic poverty.

 A small group of VRM staff recently visited the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) in Spokane, WA. As an older and larger mission with very healthy ministries, we wanted to learn all we could. Last fall, UGM began to attach additional strings to the services they offer as well and have seen a very positive response. For those who truly want help, it’s available. For those guests merely testing the waters of recovery and restoration, they now have greater incentive to jump in with both feet, as their services now function better as a means, not the end, of one’s homelessness. 

About a year ago, I was catching up with a friend (currently homeless) around dinnertime. “I hate to ask,” he begins,” but will you buy me something to eat? I’m just so hungry.” True to the oath, I said no. It was clear, in spite of my friend’s circumstances, this was not an emergency situation. “I feel awful saying no,” I responded, “but you knew what time dinner is served at the Mission and you chose not to walk over. If I were to buy you dinner now, what happens tomorrow?” 

It’s the empathy within us that prompts a response for today, but it’s often not the most loving for tomorrow — to truly remedy each hardship or need staring at us. While we may feel good to “help” in certain moments, as Bob said, “Sometimes good becomes the enemy of best.”

Join us at our annual banquet on October 12 and see what “best” looks like.

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.