One of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church is “ministry with the poor”.
The most powerful word in that short phrase is the word “with”. With implies building community and doing things “with” people, instead of “to”, “for”, or “at” people. To do ministry “with” people not only means allowing people to help, but empowering people to grow in to their own full self.
Over the last five years, I have seen this happen in powerful ways. Through the human dignity that comes in doing work “with” people, I have seen unemployed people find jobs, addicted people go clean, and homeless people find shelter and safety.
However, in the last couple of months I have seen another element of “with” as I have watched people move from participants to volunteers to employees.
Two year ago, a man named Richard moved from being a customer to a volunteer at our daily lunch program called “Loaves and Fishes”. Then he moved from being a volunteer to a part-time employee. As that program came to a close, Richard didn’t lose his part time job, but went on to receive a full-time job at the Reeb Avenue Center with Mid-Ohio Foodbank. This was a life changing event for Richard, for the first time in his life he was on track to have a career.
Yesterday, I saw a friend named Yvonne whose face was filled with joy and fear at the same time. She too was making this transition. Yvonne had been a member of our Loaves and Fishes community and went from being a diner at the Roots Cafe at Reeb to a volunteer. Through the help of the Godman Guild employment program, Yvonne donned an apron and moved to the other side of the counter. Her hands shook as she made a bold step that has the potential to change her life.
Ministry “with” is not just a slogan or a management technique, but has the potential to change people’s lives by empowering them to grow in to all that God created them to be.