PABC's Ministry to the Homeless:
The Port Austin Bible Campus Ministry to the Homeless cannot be understood outside of the Bible- which has inspired it. Jesus Christ outlined the Christian way of expending oneself to help others in his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).
The PABC ministry is not simply an effort to provide for the needs of the poor along with teaching the Bible, in the hopes of making Christian disciples. It is an effort to help the poor in the way the Bible teaches they should be helped. It teaches them how to be self-sufficient, as much as possible, within whatever means are presently available to them. PABC is a non-denominational ministry, and believes that this method is effective with people of any Christian denomination, or who may not yet be interested in Christianity at all.
The Bible frequently speaks of giving justice to the poor (Exodus 23:3,6; Leviticus 19;15; Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 31:9, etc.). It is not possible to effectively help the poor if we say their poverty is entirely their fault-because it is not! Our national laws regarding wealth and property ownership are in many cases contrary to the Bible. We must acknowledge the wrong that has been done to those who have suffered, then go on to help them understand their opportunities in their present situation in spite of the injustice. We must justly help those who are willing to help themselves now, no matter what their past problems were. We must not help those who are unwilling to help themselves-because we just enable them to continue in their ineffective behavior.
Some poor people are willing to work, but the depressed economy, illness, divorce, or other maladies have deprived them of their possessions and ability to earn a living. For some, these are very real conditions that you or I would find daunting if we had to face them ourselves. They have little to live on now, and not even the needed resources to start a business or get to a place that might hire them. Then, there are poor people who do not want to work-or at least do not want to work on the conditions that most people would want to hire them. Nevertheless, they use the real reasons listed above as excuses-and often believe their own half truths.
The solution to this problem is to provide a way for the honest, willing-to-work poor to succeed, and then to point the others to it, and say "either you learn to do this, or leave our ministry, and continue to suffer the effects of homelessness."
Bible Teaching on Our Economy
We hope we will not lose any readers with this next brief section, but without an understanding of what God intended in regard to our economy and property ownership, one cannot understand the Biblical teaching on helping the poor.
While most people assume the Bible teaches capitalism as an economic system; that is not entirely correct. The Bible teaches the private ownership of property (as opposed to the collective or state ownership in capitalism and socialism), but it places limits on it. In the U.S.A., we see nothing wrong with a person working hard, earning millions-or billions-of dollars, investing that capital to earn more money, keeping it for his lifetime, and passing it on to his heirs for generations to come. If they don't violate campaign finance laws, it also seems right for the heirs of this empire to finance political parties to elect "their people" to public office so numerous laws can be passed in their favor,. If these wealthy people find it more profitable to move most of their production to poor countries where labor is cheap, leaving millions of Americans without jobs or resources to take care of themselves, that seems all right, too, as long as no laws are violated.
Fortunately, God says that is wrong. God commanded that land be divided equally among the people who live in it (Num 33:54). He says that will be done again in the future (Ezk 45:1). And He further commanded that the land not be permanently sold, but that it could only be sold temporarily and would go back the family that owned it every 49 years, in what was called a Jubilee year in Leviticus 25. It was a quote from this chapter that was placed upon our famous "liberty bell": "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). This scripture is about restoring land and liberty to people who had lost it through poverty. For millions of people, immigrating to the U.S.A was a chance to have their own land and escape the feudal barons of Europe. But a law to return land to its original owners was never passed in the USA, and about 49 years after it was constructed (accounts vary), the liberty bell cracked.
God intended people to use wealth to take care of their needs, but not as a means of controlling or enslaving others. Today, according to the Wikipedia article Distribution of Wealth, subhead United States, 1% of Americans own 38% of its wealth, while the poorest 40% of us share only 1% of its wealth. Another way of putting it, those in the richest 1% own, on average, about 1520 times as much as those in the poorest 40%. Under God's system with a Jubilee year every 49 years, there would be no massive buildup of wealth in the hands of a few. Land, buildings, factories, etc, would continue to remain largely equally distributed among families. When people are born to families who had lost their land through mismanagement, they could always look forward to a time when they would get their land back. This is a wonderful hope compared to the millions of people today who have almost nothing, and no way of getting it.
There are other parts of our nation's economic and legal systems that are, according to the Bible teaching, also unfair to the poor. Some will be covered below. Others, such as excessive taxation and regulation, are fairly obvious, but beyond the scope of this article.
We Can Do This Now
While it would be wonderful to reform our nation's laws so they conformed to the Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:6), PABC does not believe God has given it that enormous task, and does not believe that this will happen in the near future. PABC does not teach disobedience to existing federal, state and local laws, even when they are contrary to Biblical teaching. (For example, a person who loses his land in the USA should not try to take it back in the Jubilee year, because that is not the law of our country.) PABC teaches that individuals who have found themselves homeless should take the following approach.
God, in His wisdom, has physically provided for the poor. If they understand His ways, do what they can, and ask Him to take care of them where our society falls short, they will succeed. (The most important message of the Bible is repentance of one's sins and receiving a new life through faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But this is an individual, personal decision that should never be coerced out of someone in exchange for necessities.)
Justice for the Poor
Numerous Scriptures tell us the poor need Justice (Exodus 23:3,6; Leviticus 19;15; Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 31:9, etc.). It is difficult enough for many people to successfully deal with the many and varied government agencies and charities that help them, but almost impossible for them to get justice in our legal system. Most poor people have one or more stories about how someone else caused them to be in their present situation. Some involve court cases, some do not. It is important to listen to their stories and attempt to understand whether their perception is accurate or far away from reality. If the person themselves is largely the one that needs to change, they need to be told by someone who is being kind to them-someone who is giving them food and shelter. (Even so, they still may not listen.)
When people have been victimized, they need to be assured that they are all right and that they should seek deliverance either from our society, or from God. The difficulty of our court systems is much greater than many people realize A poor person cannot receive a court-appointed lawyer for most civil cases. Even when a public defender is appointed for criminal cases, they rarely have the resources to properly defend a poor person. Today, over 90% of criminal court cases are settled with plea bargains-there is tremendous pressure on public defenders to settle nearly all of their cases this way. This generally means that if the evidence against a person is convincing, he will be pushed into pleading guilty to something almost as bad as what the evidence indicates. If the evidence is not so convincing, the person will be pushed into pleading guilty to a relatively minor charge-even if he did not do anything wrong.
Most struggling people have no idea of the resources for justice that are within their reach. As a simple example, nearly every court house has a public law library, but they almost never have a sign on the door. One has to know one has a right to use it, and to ask where it is. There are many books, free law clinics, publicly available law forms, internet resources and other means whereby the poor can get much closer to obtaining justice. The simple fact that they are aware of these resources and mention them often causes them to be treated much more fairly. PABC makes an effort to acquaint its Guests with the resources that will help them obtain justice when it is called for.
Sadly, PABC has had to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to charge some of its guests who see nothing wrong with doing things contrary to the laws of both man and God. While our courts may not deal with it in the same way that the Scripture teaches, some kind of punishment is better than allowing a person to continue to harm others without regard to the damage they are doing to everyone involved.
Leftovers for Profit
The Bible instructs harvesters not to glean their fields-not to go back to gather the small amount that was left during their first harvest (Lev 19:9-10; Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-22). Even if they tied up a bundle of grain, but forgot to bring it in from the field, they are to leave it there. The poor people are allowed to come in and do the harder work of gathering the "leftover" grains and fruits so they have something to eat or to sell for their other needs. This is a good deal for everyone. The landowner does not waste his time in gathering the leftovers-the least cost-effective part of the harvest. Yet, the poor person, without land, still has a harvest that he can use as a cash crop. He can pay for his necessities, and if there is enough left, for any luxuries he might want. The widow, Ruth, actually lived by gleaning (Ruth 2). Similarly, in the year that crop lands lie fallow, poor people were allowed to gather the crops (Ex 23:11).
Today, gleaning fields is not practical as most people do not live close enough to a farm to do this-even if it were legal. Nevertheless, the principle applies to many other "leftovers" from our society. PABC and its Guests gather scrap metal and sell it for cash. Other people give us unwanted items which we have sold at yard sales or online. Individuals pick up bottles and cans for their funds. We have received surplus food-even extra deer or beef cows-and done the work ourselves to prepare it for suitable meals. We plant a garden on the space we have, and grow food ourselves. Unfortunately, there are more and more laws that restrict our ability to sell any food we might grow, as well as restrict restaurants and food stores from giving surplus food to us.
PABC hopes to continue to encourage others to give their "leftovers" to us so we can use them to take care of the needs of the homeless here.
Give us This Day Our Daily Bread
The Bible also commands farmers to feed the poor on a daily basis-but only as much as they need on that day. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 teaches that the poor could go eat in a farmers' field at any time, but that they could not bring a container with them to take any away. This is reminiscent of the Lord's prayer to "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). There is a very important distinction between this and the "leftovers", above.
With the leftovers or gleanings, above, the amount a person could collect was limited largely by time-it had to be after the owner harvested, but before weather destroyed the remainder of the crop, and it was limited by how much of the hard work of gleaning a person could do. In this case, when a person is allowed to walk into a farmer's field at any time, before the main harvest, the Bible strictly limits what he can take to what he can put in his stomach. He does not have the right to take away anything from the field to sell.
The principle here is very good in regard to helping the poor. If they are unable to provide for daily necessities, those who are able should provide them on a daily basis. A stockpile of necessities should not be given in advance, as some poor people will sell or trade these necessities for luxuries-non-essential items. Some struggling people may resent the lack of self-determination-having to ask and receive things on a daily basis. But it is the ones who became poor through mismanagement that will likely be the biggest complainers. Their solution to their mismanagement is simply for someone to give them more resources. Those who are good managers of their resources will be thankful for the daily help, and know that they will eventually be able to produce enough to be autonomous again.
Interest Free Loans
There will be times when people have necessities other than food-or need food when there is nothing available in the fields. The Bible also teaches that those with means should lend money to the poor for their needs-but not at interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 15:7-11). The word "needs" is again key. There is no reason to lend money to someone just because they want something. It should only be done when they need it, and the lender knows they need it. The lender also needs to be careful to be sure that the person is not borrowing for needs, because they have spent the money that should have been used for needs on something else.
The requirement to lend at no interest means that there is no money to be made on these loans, they are a kindness to the person in need. Unfortunately, the practice of our society today is completely the opposite. Today, numerous banks, businesses and governments lend at high interest rates to the poor. Fees and penalties for late payments can be more than the value of what was owed originally. God promises to punish those who make fortunes through these evil practices (Zechariah 7:9-14).
PABC largely serves people by directly providing their needs. In general, it does not have the resources to help people who do not live on its campus. Even so, there are a few cases where PABC can verify that loaning someone a few dollars now will help them save many times the amount in the future, prevent them from going to jail, or make life reasonable to live when it would be very difficult without the money. PABC has loaned money in those cases, and it has usually been returned-but, sadly, not always.
In Your House
As the above sections teach, it is best to give the poor what they need, when they need it. This is difficult to do with weekly food giveaways or monthly government checks. The Bible suggests that we take the poor into our homes (Leviticus 25:35). With this method, we know what there needs are. This is the way of PABC, as the staff actually lives among those it helps.
Another Bible teaching is not making a hardship or impossible condition for the poor-like requiring to pledge their garment for a loan that causes them to have to sleep in the cold (Deuteronomy 24;10-15). Our nation actually has laws that operate on this principle-a person in debt cannot have his only transportation or other essential items taken away because of a debt. If he cannot live and get to work, how can he pay his debt? Again, making a determination of what is essential is much easier when the person is living with you.
Old Debts Must Be Forgiven
While some Christians do not yet understand this, the Bible teaching on "bankruptcy" is very clear: Release of debts should be automatic, every seven years, whether one needs it or not! The Bible teaches debts are to be canceled for everyone. in the "year of release" (Deut 15:1-6; Deut 31:10), There is no requirement to "file" bankruptcy. Obviously, a lot less people would lend money under those rules. The current practice of stores, banks, credit card companies, and a host of others marketing and begging solvent people to take out loans is unbiblical. If they had to forgive loans every seven years, they would not make so many-and they would make them for much shorter terms.
Since our legal system does not have an automatic release of debts every seven years, filing for bankruptcy is the only way to get the kind of relief for debt that God intended. God does not intend for people to spend the bulk of their life earning to repay some big debts-no matter whose fault they are. Obviously, it is wrong to run up debts with no possible way to pay them and then just file bankruptcy. The purpose of bankruptcy is to help people who have gotten into debt-through their fault or the fault of others-to get out and stay out.
PABC has acquired books, internet sites, legal help phone numbers and other resources to help individuals file for bankruptcy-and encourages people to do it when it will help.
Biblical punishments for crimes are usually very different than those of our legal systems. The Bible never specifies jail or prison as a punishment. Most biblical punishments consist of financial restitution. (The Bible teaches the death penalty for capital offences, and limited corporal punishment for certain cases.) When a person does not have the money to pay court-ordered restitution, the Bible says he could be sold as a servant for up to 6 years (Exodus 22:3; Deuteronomy 15:12). Serving at the farm or business of a successful person is a much better rehabilitation method than caging people in with a bunch of other prisoners. When a servant is set free, he is to be furnished with animals and what he needs to begin living on his own (Deuteronomy 15:14). Today, when prisoners are released, they are frequently burdened with court costs and thousands of dollars in costs to pay for their stay in jail. Criminal background checks, offender databases, and other restrictions make it almost impossible for them to get jobs-yet they owe a lot of money. It is common for them to serve more jail time simply because they could not find a job within a few weeks to pay their court fines and costs. For many, successfully committing additional crimes appears to be the only way to stay out of jail. While there should be punishment for crimes, putting people in "impossible" situations is not a just punishment.
PABC has accepted former prisoners, some of whom would have gone back to jail if we did not accept them. PABC encourages them to eliminate housing fees through bankruptcy when possible, and helps them sort through the long and difficult task of getting reestablished in the working world.
Again, justice for the poor is an important theme as the PABC ministry has to evaluate each person to determine how much they can be helped versus how much of a threat they are likely to be to the others on campus. So far, we have escaped major difficulties.
PABC provides homeless people a place to stay, and then encourages them to do as much as they can for themselves. If they have money for food, or a government card, then they can take care of that themselves, otherwise, PABC feeds them. PABC's Guests must accumulate a certain number of Voluntary Points every month-helping to pay for the cost of their utilities or make other essential improvements to the campus..
PABC Guests are expected to make progress in their life goals as well as their short term goals of finding jobs and finding a permanent place to stay. This progress is reviewed on a weekly basis. Guests also attend scheduled meetings and joint meals. Some choose to attend our church services. Three Alcoholics Anonymous and one Narcotics Anonymous meetings are held each week on campus.
PABC welcomes visitors and those who might want to help in some way. Please contact PABC, Attn: Norman Edwards, PO Box 474, Port Austin, Michgian 48467; tel:989-738-7774; PABC@portaustin.net; www.portaustin.net/pabc.
More on PABC Homeless Ministry