Giving Fish or Teaching to Fish? Both!

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” Ephesians 3:20.

This past Monday, January 21, was a busy day for North Church. About 35 of our younger members ministered at the Youth Study Center. Then, our outreach coordinator, Diane Medley-Smith, in cooperation with several other ministries of the church hosted a worship service and soul food dinner in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We must have had 200 guests in attendance on Monday!

Everything was very nice. Thank you to Mrs. Medley-Smith, to the kitchen staff, to our youth, to the program coordinators and everyone who had an active role in Monday’s outreach ministry.

But when we do events with relative success like the one we did this past Monday, I am left with a nagging inner question, “What next?” I’m left wondering how we can be a blessing to the scores of people who walked through our doors in a way that is transformative and long-lasting.

Let me be realistic and admit up front that we cannot do everything. With that understanding, we can celebrate the good that we are doing already. Though we cannot do everything, I do believe we can do more.

And old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” How do we apply that to North Church? Well, we certainly have active ministries that “give a man a fish.” And that’s important! I don’t want to learn NOTHIN’ from you when I’m hungry. (I intended to employ that non-standard English for the sake of emphasis.) Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that physiological needs must be met before anything else can take place. We all know that hungry children don’t learn well in school. So, I’m not putting one type of ministry down to raise the importance of another. We must keep feeding people. That’s the door, the entryway into the lives of “good people on hard times.”

But how can we “teach a man to fish” in North Central Philadelphia? There are ways and means beyond the few that are in my head. But I want to share two with you.

Education & Medical Care
There is an educational crisis in our country. There is an educational crisis in our city. (Or did you not hear about the girl who was violently attacked and slashed by her female school mates?) In the community where Evelyn and I reside, nearly half of the students grades K-8 are enrolled in charter schools. That’s a tremendous drain on the resources of the public school, which makes it harder for them to improve. Needless to say, the children in public school are performing in the bottom percentile of students in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

And so are the children in the charter schools. Years after some thought that charter schools would be the answer to reforming public school education we are now facing the harsh reality that they are not the panacea some had hoped for.

In the final analysis, children need to learn. Education is preparation for life. And I am convinced that no one can offer a better education than us. A Christian education from caring, certified teachers could prepare some children not only for this life, but for the life to come.

But wait! I started this page talking about ministry to the “good people on hard times” that worshipped and fellowshipped with us this past Monday. And I’m still talking about ministry to them. I’m not talking about a traditional Seventh-day Adventist Christian school that caters to our children and the few children of Black middle class families who are looking for an alternative. If education opens doors and provides opportunities, then I’m talking about a Seventh-day Adventist Christian school that takes in (as students) the children of some “good people on hard times” who CANNOT afford to pay.

It may take 15 years to see it, but that’s one way to lift a generation out of the poverty trap.

There are more things we could do. We know that with rising healthcare costs, a lot of people are forced to make choices that are detrimental to their health. Sometimes these choices are even fatal just because they cannot afford the medical attention they need. What could we do? We could operate a clinic that offers free or reduced dental and medical care. No, we could not initially be open 7 days a week, but we could open a few evenings a week. We could create a large enough pool of physicians and dentists who are willing to offer a few hours a month pro bono. We could find some nurses who are willing to do the same.
There are many things we could do that would CHANGE LIVES and open hearts to the proclamation of the Gospel. I can almost guarantee you they’ll listen to a truth that transforms the WHOLE person.

I know it sounds like a grand dream. But let’s not sell ourselves short. A little old lady who is now pushin’ up daisies once said, “Higher than the highest human thought is God’s ideal for His children” (Ellen G. White, Education, page 18).


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