"We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something." – Mother Teresa
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the large problems facing the world – war, poverty, famine, terrorism, epidemics, and natural disasters are beyond our comprehension and many are beyond our control. And that's why I find great comfort in Mother Teresa's words – her wisdom lets me see that even small actions, while seemingly a small drop in the ocean, do truly matter.
Late last year, I learned of two groups of volunteers from Friends House Ministries, who meet every Monday and Wednesday, 52 weeks a year, to prepare and serve a hot breakfast for the homeless at Greensboro Urban Ministry. I came to know the hearts of the leaders of these teams. I was inspired by their dedication to the simple acts of preparing a hot, hearty breakfast and offering words of encouragement to those who would otherwise have only coffee and doughnuts, eaten alone. This inspiration led to my own call to do the same. In 2006, I have been privileged to help organize and lead a group of volunteers to prepare and serve a hot breakfast every Friday morning at Greensboro Urban Ministry. While this started within my congregation, First Lutheran Church, it has broadened to draw adults and youth from other faith communities, as well as persons outside a faith community.
One Friday morning, my friend Kathy and I had a long discussion with a guest who suffers from mental health issues. Following this experience, Kathy led our group devotions and sagely said, "You want to be able to fix the problems of our guests – but then you realize, all you can really fix are eggs and grits." How true! While we want to do more for our guests, preparing food is all we really can do – and yet, that's enough. We realize that feeding 65 homeless men and women every Friday morning is just a drop in the ocean of the world's problems – yet, for those 65 men and women, that's a drop that would otherwise be missing from their lives.
And so, as we prepare for the holidays, I would like to suggest some simple ways to pour more drops in the ocean, starting locally, and then rippling outward:
- Fighting Homelessness Locally – Honor Cards, a holiday-season tradition in Greensboro for 18 years, has recently expanded to other cities in North Carolina. These cards, featuring an original painting by Greensboro artist William Mangum, are sold to help fund the operations of Greensboro Urban Ministry, Urban Ministries of Wake County, and Greenville Community Shelters. Honor Cards can be obtained at many places, including the offices of the supported charities, Wachovia retail branches, and various congregations. Some businesses, including Todd Herman Associates, send Honor Cards instead of holiday cards.
- Addressing the Root Causes of Homelessness– Organizations such as Greensboro Urban Ministry deal with symptoms of deeper issues – homelessness is really just a manifestation of other, more fundamental issues. What if we could address those deeper issues and end chronic homelessness? That's the goal of several ambitious – and audacious – programs from the federal government and several states, including North Carolina!
- Philip F. Mangano, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, coordinates the efforts of 20 federal agencies in their response to reduce and end homelessness.
- NC Department of Health and Human Services staff member Martha Are travels and speaks across the state to present a clear and compelling vision of how chronic homelessness in North Carolina can be eradicated by 2016.
- In Guilford County, elected and community leaders have already begun the hard work of implementing this 10-year plan locally.
- Broadening the Social Justice Agenda Nationally– Some problems are too big to address piecemeal, even at a state level – what can be done at the national level? Too often, political races receiving national attention focus on a few "hot button" issues that tend to polarize our political debates, especially when religious views are added to the mix. What would it look like if people of all faiths could agree that we need to deal meaningfully with issues? That's the goal of a social advocacy group called Sojourners. Founded by pastor turned social advocate Jim Wallis – who is, in my opinion, one of two "social prophets" we have today – Sojourners seeks to hold our national leaders accountable on a broad set of issues concerning social justice. While Sojourners is a faith-based group, it does not seek to proselytize – rather, its goal is to influence national policies affecting various issues, including:
- Compassion and Economic Justice.
- Peace and Restraint of Violence.
- Consistent Ethic of Life.
- Racial Justice.
- Human Rights, Dignity, and Gender Justice.
- Strengthening Families and Renewing Culture.
- Good Stewardship of the World.
- Broadening the Social Justice Agenda Internationally– Can we expand the ocean even further? Yes, and that's the goal of another social prophet. People may think of Bono as just the lead singer of the rock group, U2 – but his keen intellect, vision for a better world, heart for the poor, and soul of a poet make him an effective advocate for One.org. The mission of One.org is to direct 1% of the national budget of the United States – which is, after all, the money of the people – to put an end to extreme poverty worldwide, and to advocate that the G8 nations commit to:
- More and better international assistance.
- 100% debt cancellation.
- Trade reform.
- Renewed efforts to fight corruption for the world's poorest countries.
The words of Mother Teresa are both an observation and a call for action – our individual actions are just drops in the ocean. But if enough of us learn about these major issues and then actively support – both locally and beyond – efforts to address them, the ocean itself will be raised.
With best wishes for a peaceful and joyous holiday season,
Todd L. Herman