"Do you ever worry that you might encourage street youth by all that you do? I mean…I know it's good to help out, but I've always wanted to ask this. I figured you might know." This is the question that "David" asked me. It's one that comes up more frequently from the community than from street kids. I said, "Frankly, you're probably the expert here. You should tell me. Do the social workers help or not? Do I? I'll tell you what I know but I also want you to tell me what you think." He agreed.
I said, "The social work name for encouraging a destructive behavior is enabling. Social work organizations, religious organizations, and I all worry about it. I get asked about it from potential donors and volunteers almost every week.
"David, if I could change only one thing for those to whom I minister, it would be to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Once you know Jesus, if it's OK with Him for you to live on the street, then it's fine with me. If it's OK with Him for you to drink, then I have no problems. I'm not the judge. I believe that God is so big and so powerful that I can trust him to help make whatever changes a person needs once they get to know Him.
"I provide relief as a way of getting your attention, as a way of getting to know you, as a way of loving you. Frequently I come empty handed; I don't want to be seen as Santa Claus. I want to come and enjoy your company. But, sometimes I get caught up in the stuff and in the numbers. When I do that, I sin; I separate myself from God and take His ministry off course. When I began providing sandwiches on Friday, I promised myself that I would never apologize for not having any or enough. Sometimes I do worry about it. That's a temptation that I feel on an almost daily basis, and it's a problem that I think every organization faces, including the social work ones and the religious ones. What do you say, David? Are we enabling the kids or not?"
He said, "I've been on and off the streets for 15 years. I'm older than many of these kids out here. There is no question that you make it easier for me to stay out here. I knew you'd be down here with food today. But if you didn't come, I could find food anyway. But you do make it easier for me. I think only 15% of the kids are listening right now. And that's worth something. I mean you're planting seeds, and you don't know what happens down the line. But most just want to party and stay out here right now."
"I agree with you. The Bible even uses words like you chose, David. We do plant seeds. Some are swept away by forces of the world. Some don't grow well or even sprout at all, but some do. The Bible says those who do grow well multiply greatly and are very valuable. Jesus is so gentle he would not break a bent-over stem or blow out a candle while even the smallest glow remains. (Don't get me wrong… In the end, Jesus will judge those who do not know Him.) So I rejoice in sharing whatever I have to give, David, in the way of relief. But I treasure most moments of real authenticity and conversations about God, just like this one."