Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” What we often see in our communities is the first part of that quote: the bandaging of wounds beneath the wheel. We see treatments of the issues. We bandage the wounds hoping that the bandage itself will eradicate the infection that lies beneath the wound itself. We think that the thing on the surface is the problem while failing to notice something deeper. It’s like going to give homeless individuals a bottle of water and a granola bar – like a little food is all they need.
And, what these “treatments” have wrought are this: a poverty rate that has remained the same for the last 43 years. We have seen a rise in drug use. We have seen a rise in imprisonment. We have seen the growth of human trafficking. We have seen a rise in economic disparity. And, we’ve seen a rise in violence within our communities.
As we’ve sat across the table from many men and women and heard their stories, we do not see numbers and statistics. We do not see ambivalence and apathy. We do not hear requests for handouts. What we do see, however, are the tears that flow from the eyes of people struggling to bandage themselves from the wounds of injustice. We see people struggling to overcome the wheel that turns and turns without mercy. We see people who have been bandaged but still wonder why things remain the same.
What these people need, and what we’ve been able to offer, are not just treatments of particular wounds and issues, but hope and new lives. Lives transformed by Christ and lives transformed by a community of people who enter into life with them.
And here’s the funny thing that no one tells you about working with those in poverty and situations of injustice: along the way, you are the one who changes the most.
Over this past several months, several of the guys we’ve worked with have been able to procure full time employment and, for the first time in years, are able to see a new life for themselves. While this is good news, it’s not just about a job, but instead about people being moved from beneath the wheel of injustice and, in some way, the deterioration of that wheel all together. As one person is helped out of poverty, piece by piece, that wheel is exposed for what it is and does. As we address the root causes (personally, culturally, politically, economically), we tear that wheel down.
And here’s the funny thing that no one tells you about working with those in poverty and situations of injustice: along the way, you are the one who changes the most. You see the wheel for what it is and you rage within yourself to see its demise. You, in the end, become the spoke that is hurled into the wheel.