I’m reading a book about the history of the Salvation Army in the United States, but it’s turned out to be a history of urban ministry in general in America, as it talks about how many different groups, religious and secular, have assisted the poor and the homeless.
What really strikes me is how nothing is new. We are facing the same struggles today that they faced in the 1800′s: poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, mental illness, addiction. The helpers are debating today the same things they debated in the 1800′s: Is poverty a systemic issue or an individual issue? Do we offer a hand up or a handout?
The book talks about homeless shelters and soup kitchens and job programs and educational opportunities, all from the 1800′s, but they could be talking about today, because we’re doing the same things and dealing with the same people with the same problems and having the same philosophical discussions. [What was that Jesus said? "...The poor you will always have with you..." (Matt 26:11) ]
As I’m reading though, I’m wondering why we cycle through the same old methods of helping (while calling them “new” in each generation) without looking seriously to the past to gain instruction and wisdom in what helps and what harms those we are serving.