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GIVING THE POOR A REASON TO LIVE


So let's humble ourselves before each other and experience His grace. It's the way to true glory and dignity even if we find ourselves down and out.


That's what Abbe Pierre discovered when he founded the Emmaus Communities in 1949. The Emmaus Communities today serve homeless men and women all across Europe in a unique way. They don't just give the homeless handouts. Instead, they ask the homeless, whom they call "companions," to serve others.


It all started with Abbe Pierre's first companion in ministry, a homeless man named Georges. After Georges' release from prison, his family couldn't cope with his reappearance, so they told him to leave. Homeless, unemployed, and on the verge of suicide, Georges came to Pierre and asked for help. Much to Georges' surprise, Pierre asked Georges to help him instead. Pierre told Georges that he was overwhelmed with meeting the needs of homeless mothers and their children. So Pierre challenged Georges to turn his life around by serving those less fortunate than he.


Georges became the first "companion" for Emmaus, helping Pierre build shelters for homeless mothers and their children. In the following years, every companion, like Georges, was invited to serve others as they received help. Initially, all the companions collected second-hand goods and prepared them for resale, thus earning the name "the rag pickers." Later in his life, Georges said, "Whatever else [Abbe Pierre] might have given me -- money, home, somewhere to work -- I'd have still tried to kill myself. What I was missing, and what he offered, was something to live for." Well, those sentiments became the unofficial motto for Emmaus -- give the poor a reason to live, not just things to live on.


According to Margaret Visser, this ministry restores dignity and breathes new life into the poor because "members turn to those who have nothing and ask them to give."


(Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, p. 373. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, The Way to Glory, 8/13/2011)

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