The past thirty years have seen a huge shift in the way we think about families and what families need to thrive instead of just survive. A few examples of some of the challenges will suffice:
Living wage jobs are hard to find, and employers who need workers struggle to find people with the necessary skills.
Affordable housing is available, yet the costs of getting into housing (first and last month’s rent, cleaning deposits, and the fact that rental owners can afford to be selective) often make finding adequate housing difficult if not impossible.
Over 5o% of students enrolled in public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches and the distribution of food boxes continues to climb.
Douglas County is home to a significant proportion of older adults 65 and older (21.0% compared to the state proportion of just under 14%). (These figures are from a recently released report, 2011 Community Needs Assessment, produced by the United Community Action Network).
One of the biggest challenges is trying to understand what a family unit looks like. When I was a child most families looked like my family of origin a stay at home mom, a dad with a good, family wage job, and a couple of children living at home. When my children were younger, it was much more common to find their friends living with one parent or the other as a result of divorce or separation. An increasing number of children are living with grandparents because parents cannot find jobs or adequate housing. At our church the number of children who attend our Sunday services varies each week as children are bounced between custodial and non-custodial parents for weekend visitation rights.
Another challenge is simply trying to define what families need. Of course, food, housing, clothing are basic needs for all families. But what resources are needed for parents to engage their children in healthy discussion about school and friends and the challenges of growing up? What resources are needed to assist parents with transportation? Living in a rural community where health care is concentrated in a town 9 miles northeast of where I live, there are families who go without basic health care because there are no funds for transportation.
Finally, does the church truly offer a message of hope in Christ that can sustain families in the midst of health and economic crises? Are our messages (the ones we preacher’s proclaim and the message our programs and systems demonstrate) geared towards pointing people to Jesus? Or, as I asked in my Sunday message last week, are we simply imitating what we have seen others do and claim that is sufficient for following Jesus?
The needs are huge. The challenges are overwhelming, but I believe God would have us look with eyes of compassion on the crowds and their needs; that God would have us touch them at the point of their need; and that God will use our resources (however limited they may seem to us) and multiply them to bring people to Christ, in whom we have hope.