Meghan Tschanz

love shines on

Things I used to believe: poverty.

For most of my life, whenever I saw a person who was homeless, I would cross the street, avoiding eye contact.

I would never give money because I had been told that many of them were feigning homelessness and that any money I would give them would be immediately spent on booze or drugs.

Others told me that they were living in poverty because they were lazy, telling me that with hard work anyone can make it in America.

I was scared of them. Helping them would put me, a small, white, female, at risk. So I watched them walk by, ignoring the urge that told me to do something more.

This fear shaped my politics and I didn’t think government programs could help them. The men were without a home because they were addicted to drugs or booze, so their poverty was their own fault. And I had been told that women were just welfare queens, taking advantage of the system. People told me that they just needed Jesus and that if they had Jesus they wouldn’t be in that mess.

Not having any experience to tell me otherwise I believed it, always keeping those living in poverty at an arm’s length away.

And then I went on the World Race, I spent 11 straight months spending time with the poorest of societies. I befriended those without a home. I felt a sisterhood with prostituted women. I taught English to the children of those living in extreme poverty.

And through it all I discovered that they were not lazy, most were hardworking. Mothers worked from sun up to sun down to provide for their children. And when they didn’t work, when desperation led them to dig through trash heaps or beg for money it was what their family had been doing for generations.

I came back to the states and began to look at people living in poverty differently here. I began to do research on what causes poverty and I found that many of the beliefs I held before the World Race were false. I began to understand why people were living in poverty, and it wasn’t because they were “lazy.”

When my understanding of them changed I became more in favor of governmental programs like Medicaid, welfare, and programs that offered discounted college tuition.

Without having the intention to become political, I suddenly found myself voting for candidates who supported programs benefitting those in poverty.

As my politics began to change I felt strangely estranged from the church at large, which didn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t the church be the ones most eager to help those in poverty? After all, wasn’t that what Jesus told us to do again and again?

Biblical passages like Matthew 25 began to take on new weight:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I’ll be honest, this passage scares me. It makes me question what I am doing for the least of these. On the Race it was easy, nearly every day I was feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and even visiting prisons. It’s a lot harder to do in America, and besides inviting people into my home and giving money to the occasional homeless person, I don’t do much.

Another thing, I find it interesting that Jesus chose to identify with those in poverty saying “whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.” It’s almost like he is saying that if we do not know those living in poverty, we do not know him.

I think that’s why when we actually get to know these people and listen to them, not just send a check to an orphan in Africa or buy a Christmas present, our hearts start to change, the way we think starts to change.

Through getting to know those in poverty, I felt myself draw closer to God. I felt that I understood his character just a little better.

That’s why I’m really thankful for our house church, we are currently looking for ways to tangibly befriend families without a home, and help them with any resources we have. We haven’t decided how just yet, but we know we want to be actively involved in the lives of those who struggle.

One of the guys in our church works for an organization directly benefiting single mothers, currently without homes, who are victims of domestic abuse.

I think we can all agree that helping them is a noble cause, who would think it was wrong to help a woman who flees her partner to protect herself and children from domestic abuse? Most everyone I know would be willing to help her.

Christians would vocally support Christian organizations that helped her, yet their support would likely diminish if the program that helped her was run by the government.

I’ve asked why many Christians don’t support programs like welfare. Many say that helping people is not the government’s job, that is the church’s job. I could even get behind that if they, being part of the church, were doing something to make a difference. Or even if the church as a whole was helping fix the problem, but the church, even here in the Bible belt, hasn’t even come close.

Right now there are 88 Christian churches in Athens and around 59 families that are either homeless and/or living in extreme poverty who are on the waiting list to receive support from the already bombarded programs here. If each church took care of just one family without a home, the problem could disappear. But as it is, most homeless families are left without support.

In the absence of the church taking care of the problem, government programs step in. Why are many Christians against the government helping these people if they are getting the help they need?

Even Christian homeless ministries rely heavily on grants from the government and would not survive on church donations alone.

It seems to me, that the people who Jesus cared so much about, those in poverty, are largely being left behind by those who claim to follow him.

I am not exempt from this equation. I fully recognize that the ways I help those in poverty right now are not enough, but our church is having conversations about it and carefully deciding as a family where we can make the most difference in helping and getting to know these people.

So this is my challenge to you: if you are part of a faith community bring up poverty, ask what resources are going to the those living in poverty and ask if it is enough.

Try befriending a family or individual without a home, listen to their struggles, help them, and see if in the process you don’t get to know God just a little bit better. Who knows? Your mind might even change on a few subjects.

At least, that’s what happened to me.

About Meghan Tschanz

I believe in love, empowerment. and adventure. The kind of love that believes in the face of adversity, the empowerment that allows people to step into their destiny, and the kind of adventure that leaves your heart pounding in your chest. I write because I want to remind us all that there is so much more to life.

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3 Replies

  1. Great read and great job Meghan. We deliver furniture every week to folks who’ve contacted our Church through the Social Service system. We literally are able to enter their homes and help and pray with them. There’s so much we can do.

  2. Stephanie MacArthur

    Hi Meghan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. As someone who works in the social services field, I have often felt this confusion around the disparity between how I think the church should act and how it actually acts. This is still something I am struggling with.

    I wanted to make one suggestion, if you’re open to it. Your house church may already be doing this, but if not, here is my thought. As you get together and discuss how you can best support a certain group of people, please be sure that at least a few of the people partaking in that conversation are people who identify as being part of the group you want to help. For example, if you’re discussing how to best support women at a DV shelter, make sure there are women from a DV shelter in that conversation. Or if you’re looking to support people who are currently homeless, be sure you ask several people who are currently homeless to be part of that conversation.

    So often I see (and have been part of) groups of well intentioned (and often white and middle class) folks who get together to talk about how to help “those” people without ever asking “those people” what they actually want and need. It is so well intentioned but it takes away power from the people you want to help, and seeing someone who is homeless or living at a DV shelter as powerless and in need of rescuing does not equate to supporting them. They are and should be the experts in their own lives, and don’t need someone to tell them what they need; they need someone to ask what they need and then ask how they can support them in fulfilling that need.

    Best of luck in your work!

    1. Meghan Tschanz

      yes! love this Stephanie! One of our close friends and member of our house church works for a homeless program and they have these conversations with them regularly. We actually did our first event, where we just hung out with them and ate pizza while their kids hit a pinata. They said they loved it and hoped we would do it again, so we are next week!

      thanks for sharing your perspective and if you have more advice, I am ALL ears 🙂