Have you ever heard story of Walt Disney and the opening of Disneyland? The story goes that someone lamented that Walt Disney was not alive to see the opening of Disneyland, to which someone else replied, “he did see it, that’s why it’s here.” This story highlights the importance of visioning—being able to see a new way, to imagine things currently not in existence or unattainable. Vision—and I don’t mean simply 20/20 eyesight—is essential to growing, achieving, and advancing in life. I’m reminded of a Bible verse I heard so often during my time in Bible college.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18a KJV
These eight words form just the first half of verse 18 in Proverbs 29, which translated from The Message reads a little clearer. “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” The verse sits amongst a chapter full of pithy statements and wisdom sayings. Despite being modernized by Eugene Peterson, the words just seem to have more truth to them when stated in the old King James Version language. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
I’m reminded of a Christian film titled The Second Chance, which tells of an inner city church that exists as a mission church of a large, well-to do suburban church. The story begins at the suburban church on what is “The Second Chance Sunday,” (also the name of the inner city church). The Second Chance pastor is less than thrilled about being there as he doesn’t want to be just brought in for show in order to appease the conscience of the congregation, so they can feel good about where they send their checks off to. Speaking in front of the church, when he is supposed to be lauding them for their generosity, he rather exhorts that they come down to The Second Chance and support the ministry there. He proudly proclaims that if they are unwilling to do so they should rather “keep your damn money.”
What the pastor in this movie was getting at is that people don’t just need funds, they need friends. In his book With Justice for All, author John M. Perkins repeatedly asserts that poor people don’t need just the charity of the rich, they need the relationships. Perkins emphasizes that successful people should go beyond simply writing a check, rather they should take time out of their schedule to mentor an at-risk teen, help a young adult receive job training, or teach a person a valuable business skill. Most importantly of all, Perkins stresses that people need to be shown that a new way is possible; they need to be given a vision.
Perkins recounts a time talking to a teenage girl, who was determined to take care of her future children and be a good single mother. Perkins was perplexed that she was content settling for so little, yet then he realized that the teen did not know of another way. She lived in a subsidized apartment building, with rental assistance being structured in a way that discouraged two parent families. All she saw then was single moms living off subsidies. She was driven enough to realize she wanted to be the best single mom she could be—but it stopped there. She couldn’t imagine life beyond that apartment building, beyond being a single mom. She needed a new vision.
I’m also reminded of a story I heard on NPR a while back, about a woman who was on disability in a small town in Alabama. The woman suffered from chronic back pain, making any job that required a significant amount of standing simply unbearable. When the reporter asked this woman what kind of job she would like to have, the woman mentioned a job at the Social Security office. After some clarification, the reporter realized that the woman did not really want to work for Social Security, rather this was the only job in town she knew of which didn’t require standing. Think about that. She couldn’t imagine a job that would enable her to sit and work—other than this desk job working for the SSA. She couldn’t see another way.
Charity is easy, clean, and hands off. It enables one to soothe their conscience without ever making a real dent in the problem. Is charity important? Absolutely, but people need more than just your charity, they need your vision. They need you to come down to the community center and teach them the skills they need to get a better job, they need you to come to their school and help them with their math, they need you to come to where they play and spend time with them, but most importantly they need you to give them a vision for the future. A vision that is different than what they know, a vision that is bigger than what they could previously imagine, a vision, which they can claim for their own and see for themselves. Help them to imagine a new way for themselves.
If you really want to make a difference in someone’s life, don’t just write a check, give of yourself and give them a vision.