The coronavirus threatens those who need care the most and strains networks providing help
Early Christians emphasized caritas, caring for the poor, as opposed to Rome’s tradition of liberalitas, hosting those of equal or higher rank. Caritas is still part of Christian belief and practice, as our Hope Awards show: Secularists say they can do a better job through government action, but three decades of WORLD stories have shown the falsity of that claim.
The last Roman imperial attempt to fight Christianity came during the A.D. 361-363 reign of Emperor Julian, who complained in a letter to a pagan high priest that Christians “support not only their own poor but ours as well.” With the letter Julian sent several thousand bushels of grain and pints of wine for the pagan priests to distribute, hoping to win the poor to his side.
It didn’t work, and Christians continued to act as scholar Demetrios Constantelos describes: Their philanthropia, love of mankind, “extended to the underprivileged, as it proclaimed freedom, equality, and brotherhood, transcending sex, race, and national boundaries. Thus it was not limited to equals, allies, or relatives, or to citizens and civilized men, as was most often the case in other ancient societies.”
The downside to this, as ancient writer Lucian of Samosata noted: Some Christians were so charitable that charlatans could easily swindle them. That remains a risk we have to take: Given our natural inclination toward selfishness, we should pray for the gift of generosity, while keeping our eyes open. We should be like the young batter in Field of Dreams who asks an old-timer what to expect on the next pitch: “Look low and away, but watch out for ‘in your ear.’”
WORLD readers during the past year nominated 200 small, Christian groups that offer challenging, personal, and spiritual help. Through internet research and phone interviewing we eventually narrowed the field to 10 contenders, two from each of our regions: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, and International. (Our east-west dividing line is the Mississippi River. Our north-south divider is roughly the Ohio River in the East and the 37th parallel in the West.) We then sent WORLD magazine and podcast reporters on a 3,000-mile road trip by car to eyeball the domestic contenders, while my wife and I visited international prospects. The 20 pages in this issue display our results.
Northeast winner Purposeful Design shows ex-addicts and homeless men how to build furniture and God-centered futures. Southeast winner Scarlet Hope ministers to women who have previously sold or exposed their bodies. West of the Mississippi, the Little Light Christian School bestows learning and love on children of prisoners, and the Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission provides overnight shelter and long-term character and career development. Our International winner, 20schemes, brings Christian hope into Scotland’s housing projects.
I hope you’ll read the profiles that follow, and then go to wng.org/compassion and vote for whichever of the Final Five moves you the most. All are worthy. Voting will end on Friday, Sept. 6. We’ll announce the winner in the issue that goes to press the following week. WORLD will give the overall winner $10,000 and the regional winners $2,000 each, but the biggest prize is publicity and increased credibility. On June 29 one Hope Award winner emailed me that WORLD coverage initially led to $30,000 to $40,000 in new contributions and has now led to a $1.5 million pledge for a new building.
For consideration in next year’s Hope Awards contest, I hope you’ll tell Charissa Koh (firstname.lastname@example.org) about a Christian ministry to the poor in your own backyard: We celebrate those that rely not on government financing but on compassionate volunteers supervised by dedicated professionals. Please include a brief description of why a particular ministry impresses you, and include its address and website.
And, if you’re looking for ideas about something you could start in your own backyard, please go to wng.org/hope_directory and see our listing of the 105 organizations we profiled from 2006 to 2018, with their major focuses: Addiction, Babies, Community, Disabilities, Education, Family, Gardening, Homelessness, Immigration, Jobs, Legal needs, Medical, Prison, Repair work, Sex (anti-prostitution), Transportation, and Youth.
That listing also shows what it takes to start a poverty-fighting ministry: A license, a specific skill (such as auto repair), experience (such as that a mother gains), or neighborliness (a simple desire to invest time in helping others). Now, please read on.