Small government works best in partnership with big hearts in the private sector. That’s important practically when helping those in need, and it also has a political dimension: Conservative drives to reduce the welfare state sound callous without some appeal to church-related efforts to tackle poverty problems.
Indianapolis, where Gov. Mike Pence is contemplating a run for the presidency, has many examples of robust, biblically driven attempts to help those in need. Wheeler Rescue Mission helps homeless men, sometimes several hundred on freezing cold nights, and also sees men come to salvation and discipleship. Eric Gardner was addicted to heroin at 21. “You’re self-centered and only think of yourself,” was the message he heard at the mission, after he burned bridges with family and friends. Now he’s on the mission staff and is married, freed from addictions.
Another example: Shepherd Community Center attempts to rebuild families in a low-income area of the city. Curtis Adkins came to the center as a troublemaking teen, a school dropout. “He was obnoxious back then,” says center director Jay Height—but a lot of love helped expose Curtis to the love of Christ. He was first in his family to go to college and now runs the student ministry at the center and has his own family.
Healthcare examples: Several faith-based efforts offer medical care to the uninsured and homeless in Indianapolis, in the name of Christ. The Gennesaret Clinic matches volunteer doctors and nurses with the homeless for treatment at various locations and provides a transitional housing facility for homeless men coming out of hospital care. In another low-income neighborhood, Neighborhood Fellowship provides a Saturday medical clinic for the needy, staffed by Indiana University medical school students.
Jim Strietelmeier, an elder for the fellowship, sees the clinic as a way to offer the gospel and help people grow in faith in the midst of suffering. “We look at financial poverty as an enhancement to the preaching of the gospel rather than a problem that should take center stage,” says Strietelmeier: “Poverty is an opportunity to see the first priority, God and His righteousness, placed as it should be. We aim to change all society by a race of humility to the bottom.” Medical students, meanwhile, have an opportunity to practice their skills.
This kind of salt and light is independent from politics, but without it conservative principles will falter both politically and practically. For example, strong families are the key to early childhood learning and a crucial antidote to teen pregnancies: Without them, more people become dependent and government grows. Most people who work at a crisis pregnancy center or a rescue mission are not making a political statement. They just want to see people come to salvation in Christ and become committed to His kingdom. But faithfulness to that task has an indirect political impact, as well as a direct impact on changing lives and pointing people heavenward.
At WORLD we tend to emphasize the work of teachers in Christian schools and parents who homeschool, but we don’t want to ignore dedicated Christians who are public school teachers. Andy Goetz is one of the public school teachers who strive to show students love within institutions that often impart information without addressing students’ hearts and souls.
Goetz over two decades has taught English at Ohio inner-city and suburban high schools. In one urban school police sometimes released kids from handcuffs as they dropped them off at school. Goetz learned he would never teach students anything if he didn’t love them first: “Because the kids were not filled up with love at home there were walls, walls, walls all over the place.” In a suburban school the setting is more comfortable, but the students’ need for love is “as desperate if not more because it’s not easily apparent.”
Goetz knows that his human love can only begin to introduce students to God’s love, and he also knows that public schools often teach ideas opposing Christianity, but in his classes he helps students understand the importance of family and other concepts based in the Bible, and he leads a weekly, after-school Bible study called The Good Book Club.
Goetz is also frustrated by ever-changing educational fads and how hard it is to deal with students’ individual needs. But he wants to show failing kids that someone still cares about them. His favorite course, “Words from the Wild,” focuses on literature about nature: He tries to get kids to enjoy the world, which he sees as God’s gift to us.