MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, August 4th and you’re listening to The World and Everything in It. So glad to have you along today. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
You hear a lot around here about poverty-fighting: what doesn’t work—government programs, for the most part. And what does work—challenging, personal, spiritual—effective compassion.
Today, WORLD commentator Andrée Seu Peterson recalls an outreach program in Philadelphia years ago. This is a selection from her 2008 book Normal Kingdom Business.
ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, REVIEWER: The Philadelphia Inquirer had a story on an unmarried 29-year-old defender for the Kixx, our professional soccer team, who runs toward homeless people instead of away. I decided to check it out.
I looked for the green jacket on a grassy commons in front of the main city library at 19th and Vine, where roughly 200 milled about, some waiting in queues for macaroni by the ladle.
I spotted a huddle of humanity like somebody was giving away money. Guess what? Somebody was giving away money. I stood on the periphery watching the green jacket take requests (“Need ID?”) and tear off personal checks at a speed that brought to mind a 30-year-old Guadalajara incident that involved hastily disencumbering myself of a couple of hundred dollars in travelers checks as the price of informal Mexican justice.
“You were easy to spot,” I spoke up when he noticed me.
“I don’t have much of a wardrobe,” he replied, waiting for me to state my business. I said I write for a magazine. He scribbled his phone number and moved on to nobler business.
Adam Bruckner was once your average cynic from suburban Milwaukee who at some point started looking at the Bible for real instead of to stump people: “My heart changed from dark to light and I couldn’t explain it.”
The heart burden for down-and-outers came over months of shuffling from state to state trying out for soccer teams. It’s where he learned all the needs—and all the scams, too—and realized that you can enable, and not “enable,” by offering checks to the order of Penn DOT (driver’s license) and Pennsylvania Vital Statistics (for birth certificates) and not straight cash.
“Does anyone underwrite you?” I asked, perplexed.
“I get a few donations, but much less than I spend. Last year was a very expensive year and I will not be able to continue at that rate. That being said, I know that God will provide a way for it to work….I have been without a car several times and had to take trains and catch rides to serve the meals. (He spends three hours cooking on Mondays at Helping Hand Rescue Mission, 6th and Green Streets.) One time my car wasn’t starting regularly, but I knew that it would or the food wouldn’t get there.
I find myself repeating, ‘All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.’”
“Any advice for the church in helping the needy?” I inquired.
Bruckner replied: “No money, no rides, no promises. I think you need to approach these men with open arms of love….but with an awareness that there is some darkness…and to proceed with caution….Many of the stories are not true and the more questions you ask, and asking for references and details, will show who has good intentions….Either way, you can’t fake being hungry and cold.”
I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.