Some months ago, Bobby Rettew introduced me to the term, Invisible People. It’s a provocative topic that’s been well received by a generation of people who have an ache for social justice. Here’s a link to Bobby’s podcast with Mark Horvath some time ago: [Bobby’s Podcast]. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to the story. More importantly, I hope you will search your heart for the space that longs to reach out to the lost, the lonely, the least of these in our community. If you don’t know where to start, just ask us. We would be delighted to help you discover where your passion meets a need in our area.
Zoë and I have the privilege of serving alongside extraordinary people in our community who invest their lives helping those in need. Our role is minor in the play that unfolds every week. When I suggest it’s a privilege I’m not trying to evoke some form of false humility. It is truly wonderful to bear witness to the kind of love these people pour out day after day.
Just take a look at the If You Need A Meal section of the Community Resource Guide. Each entry is a story I wish Bobby had time and resources to tell. Seriously. Look at the list:
- Anderson Emergency Soup Kitchen + Saturday Servants
- C3 Crossover Community Church
- First Presbyterian and Kingdom Vision Worship Center
- Labor of the Field
- Mount Carmel CME Church + Saturday Servants
- South Main Chapel & Mercy Center
- Street Mission Outreach Ministries
- The Gospel Tabernacle of Faith
- The LOT Project
- Meals on Wheels
No doubt others are contributing to feeding our hungry neighbors in and around Anderson. These organizations are filled with people that see the invisible people. Some provide meals once a week, once a month or even three meals a day to people that would otherwise do without. What we find amazing is this is just one category on the resource guide. There are hundreds of organizations working to meet needs in all kinds of areas.
Mark Horvath’s description of Invisible People refers to those people experiencing homelessness. His motivation is to elevate awareness as a means to end homelessness. These people are invisible because we have been trained to distance ourselves from them as if they have a disease or debilitating condition. Many assume that homeless people are responsible for most of the criminal activity we see splattered across the news headlines. But being homeless is most often a temporary status rather than a destination. When we have this understanding, we suddenly have the ability to see why there are so many agencies providing direct services to those experiencing homelessness.
Leveraging the idea of Invisible People, I’d like to broaden the definition to include those we don’t want to see: them and us. “Them” begin with the homeless population but includes many more people. In the “us” world, we pay taxes and are generally law-abiding citizens. The “them” world is full of corruption, illegal, and probably illicit activity. Our imagination is fueled by the few that act out in fits of anger. Sometimes this anger is expressed in violence, other times it turns inward, contributing to depression and mental illness.
Those living below the poverty line are fighting battles we have difficulty understanding. I tried to provide a peek into that in my post a few weeks ago that talked about Becoming Self-Sufficiency. Can you imagine not knowing if you were going to have a meal today? Or worse, looking at an eviction notice like the one pictured here from a recent news story. The copy of the letter is dated August 8th. Homeowners and tenants have until September 15th to vacate the property. I don’t know the whole story, but at the very least this is a game-changer for many people. Some will have friends and family to lean on for support; others will not.
My point in all of this is to help us move beyond judging people by looking at their present circumstance. Sure, some will try and take advantage of the system in all kinds of way, but I have much more empathy for these folks now. My heart has changed by volunteering at The LOT Project and by serving at “soup kitchens” like Gospel Tabernacle of Faith. This is just two examples of dedicated people that have invested years of service to those in need in our community. Food insecurity is an issue that tugs at my heart. Bea Pullekines provides some insight on her Food Pantries page here.
Serving in a soup kitchen or food pantry may not be something that appeals to you, but there are dozens of ways to get involved. The secret is to find something that moves us from our comfortable, safe zones into areas where we can learn to love our neighbor. I’m not suggesting being unsafe, but I am convinced we have defined safety in terms that speak to our comfort level more than separation from harm.
When we adopt an “us” and “them” approach to society, we create barriers that separate people. Over time, we avoid going to “that” part of town where “they” live and the separation grows. The tragedy is when we become desensitized to the reality that divides our community. These people disappear from our radar. They become invisible. And now we are comfortable. If we can’t see them, we don’t have to do anything about whatever issues they are trying to overcome.
As we wander around our community connecting with incredible people that dismiss the notion described above, we get a real sense that the barriers erected are beginning to disappear. We have a long way to go before anyone will declare victory, but we know many people that refuse to be defined by “us” and “them” terminology. When we first went to Tabernacle of Faith’s food pantry, the kind folks greeted us by handing us a box of food prepared for distribution. They were shocked to discover we weren’t there for food; we just wanted to meet them and get some details to share with others. They didn’t judge us by our appearance, whether good or bad, they were simply living out their calling to serve anyone that knocks on their door. Amazing. And they’ve been doing this week after week for 20+ years.
There are many more stories, just like this one. The key to success is getting serious about the “loving our neighbor.” When we take time to look beyond the safety and security of our own walls and find a way to help someone in need, we are on the verge of discovering true joy.
So what do we do with this information? I’m so glad you asked! Once you get to the point that you recognize you aren’t able to see certain people, you are ready to begin.
Step 1. Get to know your neighbors. You know, the people who live next door to you! Read The Art of Neighboring on our recommended reading booklist. Create a block map or ask us for a refrigerator magnet version and write down the names of the eight closest people living in your community.
Step 2. Find out what you’re passionate about. When you think about those in need, what gets your pulse racing? If someone mentions there is an outreach program for _____ (fill in the blank), which event do you automatically sign up for without knowing any details? You might not have heard about or considered opportunities like Mentor Upstate, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Upstate Fatherhood Coalition, or Foster Care. We have an exercise that will help you when you’re ready. Just ask!
Step 3. Show up. This is Zoë’s strongest super-power. She’s learned that you just have to show up to make a difference. Maybe it’s just a South Carolina thing, but you can leave voicemails and send emails all day long. When you show up, everything changes. You may find out it’s not a good match or you might discover you went to high school with the founder of a service provider! One thing is sure: you will be changed.
When you begin to invest time in others, your heart will begin to change, and we believe you will begin to see those who were once invisible. Go ahead. Give it a try. We can’t wait to hear your story as people begin to talk about our community.