Love your neighbor.

Volunteering In Crisis Situations

03-19-2015

It's a heavy time at NeighborLink Fort Wayne for several groups of volunteers who have entered into situations with neighbors who've sought assistance recently. Trying to help someone that you have little to no relational history with in the middle of their crisis is nearly impossible and always overwhelming. Even if you do have relational capital and a level of trust built over years of serving someone, entering into what might be the most difficult situation in their life will never be easy.

One family is slated to have their house condemned due to hoarding and cleanliness issues. The challenge with them is the significant life and health issues that they've faced over the past few years. They now have to deal with the reality of cleaning up their house and making repairs in an extremely quick turnaround time while dealing with their life circumstances. They're existing state of crisis has just had some fuel thrown on its fire.

The other neighbor in need has some significant health issues and is limited in how much they can work. We've helped them solve house problems for the past couple of years but they are now struggling to keep up on all the bills, including the mortgage. Volunteers who have been in relationship with them are now being faced with how to best help financially in the short-term as well as in the long-term.

The biggest challenge either household has now is the need to invite others in to be a part of the solution to their problems. Most of our volunteers who take on projects desire to solve the crisis while also finding out why the crisis started in the first place so they can also make sure the crisis never happens again. As you can imagine, completing urgent requests without questioning the situation is difficult.

Can you sense the tension here? Can you remember a time when you were feeling forced to deal with a crisis or a major life change and how difficult that was? Did you have people who loved and supported you to help you figure it? Did you want them to help or fight against their advice?

If that's you, now replace those people you know with some strangers. These strangers have the same desire and love to help sort out the problem, but you don't know or have trust built with them. How do you imagine this situation going now? A bunch of strangers with good intentions telling you how to solve your problems. They may be completely right, but what right do they have to tell you how to change your life?

In both of these situations, NeighborLink and the volunteers involved want to do the best they can to help solve the immediate problem. However, we also want to be wise stewards of our resources and make sure we're not putting our money or the homeowners limited resources towards a solution that won't ultimately solve their problems. We want to invest in significant change over the long run, not just short-term "band-aiding" a problem. We can't offer a solution that ultimately doesn't help and has potential to harm them further. That's not loving our neighbors well.

This tension is so gut-wrenching most of the time because the scenario is set up for objective reasoning on our part despite our best effort to be relational, empathetic, and compassionate towards those seeking assistance. Our natural tendency is to offer the objective solution to the problem with an outsider perspective that can't possibly equate all the emotional and internal struggles the person or family is facing. This doesn't even take into account the immediacy most crisis require.

NeighborLink staff and seasoned volunteers have been in countless situations where this scenario is true. We've learned some things along the way and have new ways to approach each new situation with our best effort. Just because we've learned a few things doesn't make us experts. We feel more inadequate each time because we learn how to press into the situation further, which uncovers even more intangible issues that are solved by simple, tangible acts of God's love. We uncover mental disorders, attachments to animals or idols that people would rather die for than to make the hard decision, and financial spiderwebs that overwhelm us into inaction at times.

We've come to the realization that we can't always stop the crisis from taking over, but we can commit to making sure that the person or family doesn't have to go through it alone and that someone will be there to help them make tough decisions if they want us. Change is inevitable for any of us. We can go through life making the hard decisions on our own and with people that care about us, or we can go through life's tough times having choices made for us. One thing that we're trying to stop doing is taking the easy route by making the choice for them. It's often the quickest route and the decision they want, but it's always short sided in the long run.

For both of these families, we're doing our best to advise them on how to navigate the waters of their journey. We share this post to give hope to our volunteers and anyone that's tried to help a friend, acquaintance, a neighbor, or a family member navigate a crisis. You're not alone and there are no rule books. It's about entering in with wisdom, determination, and a whole lot of patience for the journey into the depths of an experience that may be foreign to you. It's ok to go there with those folks, but don't go alone. Have some people that have your back in the situation.

If you find yourself in a crisis situation like this and want our advice, please contact us. We're here to help.

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