One of the most difficult aspects of my work as a hospice chaplain can be in ministering to the poor; whether the poverty is poverty in the economic sense, poverty of the spiritual realm or poverty in the emotional aspect. Poverty is often generational, which makes it all the more a mystery, because this way of living and thinking is something that has very deep roots. In addition, our time with patients and families can be very limited, and we must respect that we are guests invited into a sacred time and space in their lives.
Like any situation, a chaplain is called to leave our own agenda at the door and not bring any preconceived thoughts to the table. When we pull up to a house, we can pretty much tell the economic state of how someone lives by a quick assessment of the home; is it maintained or showing signs of distress and neglect, is the yard maintained, or are the weeds choking the life out of what has once been planted and groomed? Even with a quick assessment we need to be open minded and not think that we know an individual based on a curb side assessment.
The difficulty in ministering to the poor does not come because I don’t want to reach out and minister to that particular individual or individuals. It comes because I don’t know how, or perhaps because I want to “fix” their poverty. I haven’t quite figured this out yet.
I can read a book about different cultures and religions and gain insight as to what is acceptable and what is not, so I can “Be a Perfect Stranger” and I can even read about the aspects of poverty. Often a Hindu or Islamic family will invite the chaplain in and be very hospitable in sharing their beliefs and cultures, because their beliefs and values are important to them and they want to share them with others also. As a result, I gain wisdom and insight in order to minister more respectfully and effectively to a particular culture.
When you are dealing with a culture of poverty however, there is no sharing, no disclosure of the realm of poverty. One must walk beside as best as we are allowed and navigate through some often difficult paths in order to bring the love and hope of Christ to every encounter.
All I can do, at this point, is to accept, like I do with every individual I encounter, that I am invited in for a specific time frame and reason. That reason is to walk with an individual and their families through the valley of the shadow if death. To be present without any preconceived notions or mindsets. To bring the Incarnational presence of Christ and to love. Nothing more, nothing less.