In the mess we’re in, who – and how – can we help effectively?

I’ve had several questions, from people I know and from strangers, along the lines of:  “OK, we’re in a mess.  COVID-19, the riots, the economy – we know about them, and there’s nothing we can do about them.  They’re too big for any one person or community to fix.  So, if we want to help – if we want to be ‘Good Samaritans‘ in our community – how can we help?  What can we do?  How can we make a real difference?”

I think that’s a very good perspective to have.  I speak as a retired pastor, who believes in the Christian imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself“, as well as understanding the basic obligation on all of us to try to treat others as we’d like them to treat us.  The Golden Rule isn’t just Christian, but is found in almost every religion, philosophy and way of life in the human race.

The problem is, how can we do this effectively?  The problems around us are so vast that if we look at them too hard or too long, they overwhelm us.  What can one man, or one family, or one clan, or one community, do to help an entire nation, or race, or creed?  The simple answer is, not much!  I don’t have enough money to buy even one meal for everyone in my town who’s going hungry today.  I don’t have enough time to teach all the kids who want to learn, but don’t have adequate opportunities to do so.  I don’t have enough space in my home to shelter all those who are homeless – and even if I did, the problems displayed by so many of them would rapidly make my home unlivable.  So . . . what to do?

I think the approach must be to make the impersonal, personal.  In Africa there’s an old saying.  “How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful.”  If you sit and contemplate the enormity of the problem as a whole, you’ll give up before you even start.  If you take it in bite-size chunks, you can deal with each one, then move on to the next.  It may not be perfect;  it may not be the best or most efficient way, from a macro perspective;  but it offers a way forward where no other might exist.

I think this is where each of us comes in.  Let’s pick one area where our skills, and resources, and efforts can truly help, and start work in that area.  Some examples:

  • Pick one family in need of assistance, and do what you can for them – cooking a meal or meals, helping the kids by taking them to a thrift store to find low-cost but serviceable clothing, organizing a team of people to help clean the house of someone who’s bed-ridden or very weak and can’t do it themselves.
  • Pick an area of service – a food pantry, or a volunteer fire department, or a police reserve, or a disaster preparation and relief program – where you have time to contribute and/or skills that might be of use, and offer your services.  As a bonus, you’ll probably receive education and training that may open up new opportunities for you.
  • Get together with like-minded friends and inventory your skills and resources.  Your group may have people who can service vehicles, or repair washing machines, or mow lawns, or fix air-conditioners, or whatever.  How about a swap program?  Organize this among yourselves, and trade skills and resources without the need for money.  Everybody benefits – and you’ll soon learn which friends are reliable, and which are not.  Those who give of their time and skills will receive help, too.  Those who won’t give, but expect to receive . . . they won’t be in your group for long.
  • Try to identify those who are devoting most of their time to helping the community – police, firefighters, nurses, etc. – and offer to help them with the activities for which they don’t have time themselves.  Do their shopping for them.  Take food to where they’re on duty (after clearing this with them, of course), so they don’t have to spend their own money on it.  Support their families by shopping with/for them, supervising the kids at play, and so on.  Maybe take the kids to the local water park or other play area, to take some of the load off their parents.  There are all sorts of ways one can help.

There are those who say that this won’t make any difference to the major problems all around us.  They won’t make America a better place, or get rid of extremists, or protect us from crime and violence.  They’re right, of course.  Those “macro” problems are too big for any of us to face.  However, they’ll make our local communities a better place.  All of us will be better off if enough of us do our part and help each other.  If our local community is better off, more stable, less stressed, then we’ll be better able to work together to protect ourselves against the worst of what’s out there:  and if enough small communities are doing that, we’ll be able to work together as larger communities, and expand our influence that much wider.  It all starts with a single mouthful.  If enough people take that mouthful, and then another, and then another . . . and if enough others are drawn to help them . . . then that elephant will get eaten, sooner or later.

I’m sorry if that isn’t a big, bold prescription to fix everything, all at once, right now.  I don’t believe such a prescription exists – and if any politician tries to persuade you that it does, and if only you vote for him/her/their party, they’ll wave a magic wand and solve everything, you can be absolutely sure they’re lying to you.  There is a way forward, but it relies on individuals to do their thing, then to come together to do the same as small groups, then to do the same as larger communities, and work our way up the ladder, one step at a time.

Top-down solutions have failed miserably.  That’s not how people work.  What does work is for each of us to tackle what problems we can, from the bottom up.  If enough of us do that, we’ll sort things out – but it’ll take a lot of time, and effort, and hard work.  There’s no other way.  Too many people are looking for a “Shake ‘n Bake” solution – just toss your food/problem into the bag, shake it to spread the seasonings, then bake it, and you’ve got your meal/solution.  Sadly, life isn’t like that.

I try to make a difference in several ways.  I may or may not be very successful, but I try.

  • I write this blog.  I try to open peoples’ eyes to what I see going on, and offer what advice and hope I can for the future.
  • If I’m approached for counseling and advice, I try to help.  I guess I’m still a pastor at heart, and always will be.
  • I try to help in practical ways, like helping my friends improve their personal defense rifles in the face of current threats to our families’ security.
  • My wife and I try to support needs that come to our attention, both individual and community, as best we can.  This applies particularly to our friends and associates.

What do you think, readers?  How can you, personally, make a difference?  If you look around, the opportunities to do so may surprise you.  Even nicer is the surprise when you get help in your turn.  “As you give, so shall you receive.

If you have suggestions or examples, please tell us about them in Comments.  We can all learn from each other.



  1. I have a family member that recently divorced her drug addled ex. They have been living hand to mouth. I've helped with car repair, food, the house note… Where ever I can.

    1 Tim 5:8

  2. All very good suggestions — practical and effective.

    When a local charity organization called for volunteers, I signed up. Now I do the weekly shopping for an elderly lady who is at risk for a severe outcome if she contracts Covid-19 … and who doesn't feel safe going into the supermarket herself.

    My business is devastated from the restrictions. But at least this way I get to do something useful. That's why I told the lady, I help you, but you also help me by letting me help you.

  3. Our little town gathered themselves up when the schools closed, and at first working only with donations, a couple of churches, and a local deli, handed out hundreds of meals to the kids who had been depending on free lunches at school. They did get gov't grants eventually, but the whole program still depends on local help and volunteers. They are continuing it through the summer, and will likely have to keep going all year as it looks like schools will be going online-only in our area.

  4. My skills are in the area of audio and acoustics. There is an on line discussion group for folk involved with sound in their churches. I spend time providing guidance and education to the folk in this group. If anyone wishes to check out this free group go to and follow the links for the discussion group.

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