Posted by: Dan | June 8, 2004

Selling Indulgences

The poster shows a young girl, obviously street-involved, huddled in a doorway. She is wrapped in a twenty dollar bill the size of a blanket. The bold lettering beside the picture proclaims, “WE CAN’T HELP STREET KIDS WITHOUT YOU.”

There is at least one other poster in this series, this time it is a young man sleeping on the side walk beneath the shelter of a giant credit card that is leaning against the wall and stopping the rain from getting to him.

It’s series of ads for Covenant House.

I feel like we’re selling indulgences. We’ve given up on the general public actually caring about homeless kids, so we just try to get to their wallets. They may feel a twinge of guilt every now and again but it’s not enough to make them do anything… but it could be enough to get them to throw a couple dollars our way – especially with the help of a few eye-catching ads.

The slogan, at least, is true. We can’t help street kids without you. But it’s not your money that will make the difference. It’s you, your physical presence, that will make the difference. These kids need love, a listening ear, some sort of positive relationship. At the drop-in we would see 180-250 kids every day. There would be 5 staff to work with those kids. And we would try hard to love those kids, we would try hard to journey with them, to hear their stories, to get to know them all. But the odds were too overwhelming. The majority of the time you just end up doing damage control, making sure the place stays safe. It’s sort of like being the catcher in the rye… only there’s a stampede headed your way. We really can’t help street kids without you.

I mean, these kids are dying. When we pass them on the street we’re looking at a dying kid. Some die fast and others die slow but most of them never really have a chance.

Scene change: imagine yourself at the beach. You notice that there’s a fierce undertow, the water’s sort of choppy and it’s okay for the adults but you notice an unattended toddler has wandered into the surf. The child is drowning. What do you do? Pack your bags, write a cheque to help make the beach safer and then get the hell out of there? Of course not. If you see a baby drowning and don’t reach out and pull it out of the water you actually share in the responsibility for that child’s death.

It’s no different with street kids. Stop giving money to make yourself feel better. Start learning what it means to love. Start learning what it means to be a Christian.

“What are your multiple sacrifices to me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats… Bring your worthless offerings no longer… they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer I will hide my eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers I will not listen. Your hands are covered in blood.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from my sight.
Cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless;
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.

– Isaiah 1.10-17

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