I recently read Same Kind of Different as Me, a true story that chronicles the lives of two improbable friends – art dealer Ron Hall and homeless Denver Moore. The book touched me in many ways while also teaching me several lessons about how to serve our neighbors in need.
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the first lesson I learned from this book – that it takes time and a relationship to have any impact on the life of a homeless man.
I learned something else, too: it’s never a one-way street.
Compassionate community ministry is not about the privileged doing all the giving and the underprivileged doing all the receiving.
It’s about a relationship between two people made in the image of God, two people who each have something to offer. Ron Hall and Denver Moore both taught me this lesson.
At one point, Ron asks Denver if they might be friends. Denver took a week to respond to the proposal (partly because he wasn’t sure Ron would stick to the friendship…). Apparently Denver never considered that Ron was condescending to help, but he weighed the offer in terms of mutuality:
… I got to thinkin about [Ron] some more and thought maybe we might have somethin to offer each other. I could be his friend in a different way then he could be my friend. I knowed he wanted to help the homeless and I could take him places he couldn’t go by hisself. I didn’t know what I might find in his circle or even that I had any business bein there, but I knowed he could help me find out whatever was down that road.
The way I looked at it, a fair exchange ain’t no robbery, and an even swap ain’t no swindle. He was gon’ protect me in the country club, and I was gon’ protect him in the hood. Even swap, straight down the line. (p. 108)
On the other hand, early on in his relationship with Denver, Ron thought of himself “as some sort of Henry Higgins to the homeless” (p. 209), but that prideful point of view was dismantled as he got to know Denver. In fact, Ron reports that when he and his wife Debbie had their own great needs, the serving tables were turned:
For nineteen months, [Denver] prayed through the night until dawn and delivered the word of God to our door like a kind of heavenly paperboy.
I was embarrassed that I once thought myself superior to him, stooping to sprinkle my wealth and wisdom into his lowly life. (p. 183)
Indeed, as I read the last half of the book, Denver’s words of Godly, Biblical wisdom ministered to my heart over and over. As my spiritual superior, Denver lead me closer to Jesus.
The second lesson Ron and Denver taught me? It’s not about the haves reaching “down” to help the have-nots. We won’t have an impact on the homeless and the hungry unless we serve with humility.
It’s true that Jesus referred to those in need as “the least of these,” but Jesus also said that “the last shall become first and the first shall become last.”
According Jesus’ logic, then, the needy in our communities are truly “the greatest of these.”
Lorraine Potter Kalal