Today I am wrestling with what it means to be benevolent. Allow me to tell you of things I have seen. I have spent time in the Down Town East Side (DTES) of Vancouver. I have talked to people on the streets. I have seen the destructive power of addiction. I have seen how sick, addicted, mentally ill persons are exploited by pimps, drug dealers, gang members, and slum lords. I have seen “harm-reduction” that leads to safe-injection sites, attempts to decriminalize prostitution, soup kitchens, free hot-dogs on the streets, homeless shelters, and police services handing out free beauty supplies to exploited women.

I have seen many community service organizations and Christian ministries working in the DTES trying to make a difference. I have seen many people who have given their lives and much money, time and effort to making life better for people in the DTES. I have seen lobby groups that block the demolition of buildings to prevent the “hard to house” from being put out on the streets but allow the slum lords to continue to charge for rooms that are not fit for the mice that also live in the rooms. I have heard social agencies referred to as “poverty pimps” because the directors of these agencies earn a living as they serve the poor and perpetuate a system of government funding with little to show for it. I have seen many volunteers who are tired and calloused from years of serving with little hope of change and little appreciation from those they serve.

The positive stories of change and renewal of dignity are few. I must look for ways to bring the light of justice and God’s Kingdom to these dark places. I must look for ways to truly do good to people without perpetuating injustices and without encouraging the bad choices that lead people to need benevolence.

In his novel, The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill speaks of the slave trade in Africa and those who tried to put an end to it by setting up a colony of former slaves in Sierra Leone. One of the characters has this to say about the efforts of well-intentioned Christian philanthropists.

“There is no profit in benevolence,” Armstrong said. “None. The colony in Freetown is child’s play, financed by the deep pockets of rich abolitionists who don’t know a thing about Africa.”

The DTES has certainly seen its share of people with deep pockets and no understanding of Vancouver. And yet, this does not negate the fact that lives have been saved and good has been done.

Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Today, I am wrestling with how I can be “openhanded toward my brothers and toward the poor and needy in this land.”

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