My family moved away from the violence of East Chicago when Uncle Paul was shot to death during a fight outside a union hall party. He was 22, and I was 12.
By the time he came to live with us, he was way down the wrong path, an expatriot of “Bloody Harlan,” a Kentucky town where adults settled scores with guns and kids settled with fists. He was poor like us but was made poorer by a quick temper, inexperience with diplomacy and lack of fatherly guidance. His death certificate testifies that the fists he took to his final fight were no match for a bullet to the chest.
Rich or poor, professional or uneducated, loving our neighbor has to be modeled and passed on, chosen, not legislated. A great obstacle is that we are so tuned in to dramatic injustices in the news that we fail to see the ordinary opportunities to do justice locally.
Justice can be defined as helping to bring rightness to a situation. It’s mostly about everyday low-profile things. Local is where we find out whether we care and where most problems start and end.
Never miss a local story.
Two women were arguing over a shopping cart full of grocery bags when I stopped recently for a red light at the intersection. I could see the problem. One woman wanted to take the cart back to her grocery store around the corner, and the other wanted to borrow it to get her groceries home. She was elderly, still a few blocks from home, and she had too many bags to carry by herself.
I sympathized with the store employee because I have to buy shopping carts for the bustling Mission Thrift Store I oversee. They aren’t cheap.
I sensed a prodding to pull over and offer the customer a ride home. However, I was on another assignment for Almighty God. The light turned green, and I hurried to keep an appointment.
As a result of my haste, I missed valuable information.
When I advise organizations overseas, the first question they ask me is, “Are you doing in your neighborhood what you’re teaching us to do?” Well, I’m still working on it.
My work puts me in the middle of all kinds of social action. I’m partnered to 80 local outreaches. I also help people take trips abroad to do good things. When they come back from rescuing the needy, most don’t show the same enthusiasm for local needs.
Strengthening your community
I love my job because I get to organize resources for deep, long-term impact. Doing justice in exotic locations is often just a fling. Helping your neighbor is not. It can be complex, expensive and at times unenjoyable, but it leads to a deep satisfaction of strengthening your community.
In most cases this is not rescue work, not hero work. It’s plain ol’ loving your neighbor, golden rule stuff. No screaming, no threats, no political campaigning.
So let me show you what I missed by not stopping to help with the shopping cart. Think of what you may be missing, too, and remember to make use of established resources when you help people. Don’t be a lone ranger.
I believe the elderly woman would have let me drive her home and that I would’ve learned she has no car, she walks to the nearest grocery for food, she struggles to get her purchases home without a large cart, and the bus stops are too far apart for her.
I probably would’ve found that she struggles to keep medical appointments, visit friends beyond walking distance, get to her preferred shopping center and attend her house of worship. She probably has family in Raleigh who have limited time for helping her. And if she’s like many other seniors, she doesn’t know Wake County provides affordable shuttle service for people like her.
There are so many ways to help our own locals. If we don’t care about them, we don’t care very much. Whenever fury over high-profile social injustice subsides, most sympathizers remain uninvolved in bringing rightness to low-profile, everyday life. Daily justice is no fling.
N. Doug Gamble is a pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh. He trains leaders to be forces of good in their communities.