Musings, Portland, Social Work

What To Do With Open Eyes?

December 26, 2011

This post is part of the 2011 #TBGB Travel Bloggers Give Back project.

In an earlier post, Moving a Mile to Live Abroad, I shared about our recent 18-month experience starting a transitional housing community for formerly homeless families in Portland, Oregon and how the season of unconventional travel opened my eyes anew to invisible cultures.

In letting you in on my thoughts, I’ve honestly shared that I’m still learning what these lessons mean and wondering how to carry the responsibility of awareness.

My conclusions thus far: We do well to be actively acknowledging the existence of the troubles, connecting with people, partnering with programs, and resisting cheap guilt-assuaging fixes that only feed the problems.

Acknowledge the Existence of Troubles

Turning a blind eye works for a bit. Brushing off beggars on foreign streets or looking past homeless vets on highway off-ramps momentarily keeps us insulated in the luxury of our own comforts, be they travelers’ budgets or running cars, but as soon as we recognize wrong and let injustice break our hearts, we’re left holding responsibility.

8 Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. 9 Speak out for justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute!
-Proverbs Chapter Thirty-One, The Message

It’s a profound calling to use our eyes to see, ears to listen, and voices to make known the truth.

Abroad: Where are the injustices? Where are the deeds hidden in darkness, or the brazen displays? Which young panhandlers or prostitutes are being ruled by gang leaders and pimps? Which tourist industries ride on the backs of toiling locals or woefully depleted natural resources?

At Home: Where are the injustices? Where are the deeds hidden in darkness, or the brazen displays? Which single mom can’t work to keep a roof over her kids’ heads because daycare costs too much and she has no one left in the world to call friend? Which minority family falls to pieces because decades-old felonies keep reformed and able bodied adults from holding a job? Which wasteful actions do we continue to mindlessly take while driving up costs of food and resources that affect the land and the least of these?

Connect with People.

Abroad: Caring deeply for street kids, looking into their eyes and recognizing them as unique and valuable, with worth and potential far beyond the limited confines of troubled circumstance.

At Home: {Trick answer. Same difference.} Caring deeply for [poor] kids, looking into their eyes and recognizing them as unique and valuable, with worth and potential far beyond the limited confines of troubled circumstance.

And likewise the lesson is in caring deeply for adults with pain behind their eyes, fatigue in their bones, and dashed dreams or lost opportunity haunting them year in and year out.

…to resist human interaction and only engage dysfunctional systems at a level of policy and management is to miss the poignant truths in real-life stories and relationship. -Moving a Mile to Live Abroad

In relating at a person-to-person level, we find our spirits changed. I am guilty of missing this opportunity time and again out of shyness or busyness or tired apathy, yet connecting genuinely with people is the first step in binding up broken hearts and meeting the soul-felt needs of the weary, the disenfranchised, and the lonely.

Partner with Programs.

To throw money or resources at a suffering human and expect to cleanly solve a problem is misguided. Temporary quick-fixes too often contribute to the persistence of broken cycles. -Moving a Mile to Live Abroad

When eyes are opened to recognize injustice, and when hearts are moved by genuine encounters with real people, we are given another opportunity: to go beyond relationship with individuals to partnership with programs well devised and uniquely run in targeted ways to meet the broader needs of people caught in systemic troubles.

I’ll share a few favorites, but there are myriad opportunities to partner with non-profits and organizations working directly with specific populations in our own neighborhoods and around the world. Shame is not in the absence of effective programs, but in our slowness to recognize, come alongside, and follow through with providing support for the good work already being done.

Partner With Programs // Abroad

+eduRelief a development organization in Mongolia focused on “breaking the cycle of poverty, improving quality of life and encouraging hope in the future of people’s lives…through sustainable education, training, and advocacy…” They love the individual and they work with donors, local government, and native professionals to overcome unemployment, illness, and broken social structures through access to education. Plus, they’re personal friends and some of the best people we know!

International Justice Mission “is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems – police, courts and laws -effectively protect the poor.  IJM’s justice professionals work in their communities in 13 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to secure tangible and sustainable protection of national laws through local court systems.”

Sari Bari & Hand and Cloth both wonderful organizations working in India and Bangladesh to teach new job skills to women rescued from or at risk of being trafficked into the sex-trade industry. {they share the most beautiful stories of transformation and sell the most beautiful, unique blankets.}

Partner With Programs // At Home

My Father’s House Family Shelter an Oregon-based non-profit and the nation’s largest privately-funded family shelter working to provide housing, recovery groups, comprehensive life skills classes, focused skill building, and genuine care for each resident admitted to their multi-month program.


Second Stories: Partnerships to Transform Neighborhoods. Their work is “coming along side churches and service agencies, creating connections, enabling mutual understanding and collaboration…Christian people lovingly partnering with their neighbors, community groups, and schools, building authentic relationships as simple and yet profound expressions of the gospel of love, proclaimed in both deeds and words!”

Compassion Connect another Oregon-based non-profit currently running “three models of collaborative service that have worked very well in the Portland Metro area. Health – Free Medical/Dental Clinic and Social Service Fair. Housing – Apartment Complex Initiative. Helps – Churches working with schools, law enforcement, and others.”


Resist Cheap Fixes.

The responsibility of not looking away may feel crippling, and a few coins flicked into a tin can or check quickly mailed off to an agency in lieu of turning a blind eye may ease the initial bout of guilt or call of compassion, but too often we rest our laurels on giving drunks a drink or handing out fish instead of fishing poles and instruction followed by a shared meal of trout around a campfire {proverbial or literal, either one}.

To engage at home or abroad takes more than a passing glance or a quick solution.

Often, I’m learning it takes the sincerity of true emotion – pain and heartache, laughter and friendship – accompanied by action and follow-through, often bigger, more difficult, and more rewarding than that which one person may accomplish alone.

“People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” -Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

We are called to serve, to know, to carry one another’s burdens, and to work together in our efforts. We need each other.

We are neighbors after all, whether down the street or around the globe.

21 It’s criminal to ignore a neighbor in need, but compassion for the poor-what a blessing! -Proverbs Chapter Fourteen, The Message

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1 Comment

  • Reply Teija January 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Excellent observations and info Bethany. I am very proud of you and Ted.

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