"How do you walk away?" It's one of the questions we get asked; and it came up again at the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE), where we recently had a stand. I sometimes find it hard to tell where the question is coming from.
Quite often, the question seems to be asked in admiring tones. We work to help a lot of folk whom society mostly wants to throw on the scrap-heap. "It's great that you are there for them, but they obviously need you so desperately, so how can you bear to walk away from them at the end of the day?"
Actually, the biggest difficulty is that most of the folk who come through our doors are not desperate for our help. Okay, they are happy enough to get something hot to eat, and they appreciate a friendly welcome, but most of the time we start off seeking to build a relationship with someone who is not wanting to change - someone who is not desperate for our help.
If you want to change - if you want to change enough to fill in all the official forms and jump through all the official hoops - then, for most people, there is some help still available, despite the cutbacks. Lots of organisations are prepared and ready to help people who are wanting to change but the trouble is most people we meet have not reached that point yet.
The core of much of our work is that we love people who do not want to change, in the belief and hope that they will come to the place where they do want to change.
After all, this is a fairly important bit of the Gospel. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we still rejected Him, He started to reach out to us. He offers love to us all - the ungodly, the ungrateful, the disinterested. He loves us because that is what He is like - not because we are on the verge of turning into wonderful people with His help, not because we were desperate to become better people, and just waiting for someone to show us the way.
We were sinners, damaged and unpleasant, and Jesus came to us and embraced us anyway. Because we needed Him, even if we didn't know it yet.
So, most folk are not desperate for our help, not at first. I'm coping just fine, I don't need anything. Well, the food is good ... but this is just a rough patch. I'll get myself sorted out again soon. I don't want anybody's help (but if you could just lend me a couple of quid for the night, that would be great) - and I certainly don't want anyone telling me what to do.
It takes time to build a relationship, to build trust, to admit that maybe I don't have all the answers, and maybe doing things my way has not worked out so well.
It is always hard to swallow my pride and admit I need help, whether I am a homeless addict, or a successful businessman. But the relationships do build, and people do start to open up and accept help. And we do care, and we get deeply involved in all kinds of ways.
And we don't walk away at the end of the day.
You can't love people while you are on the clock, and turn it off at the end of your shift. But this doesn't mean that we are always there for everyone. We can't be. I love you, but I also love the person sitting next to you, who also wants my time. And I also love my family, who also want and need my time and energy.
We don't have an infinite amount of time to give to any individual. We have this problem because we're human, not because the folk we are seeking to serve are particularly needy.
Having to limit what we can do is part of the nature of all Christian ministry. We don't walk away from needy people, but we do follow Jesus' example of giving what we can, and leaving the rest in our Father's hands, trusting that He will take our offering and use it to create something wonderful.
After all, it's what He does.