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Steve and Janie Sjogren (pronounced show-grin) have been involved in church planting in Oslo, Norway; Baltimore, Maryland; and Cincinnati, Ohio. Janie is a graduate of Sonoma State University (California). Steve graduated from Lutheran Bible Institute of California and Bethany College (Kansas), and is the author of many books, including 101 Ways to Reach Your Community (NavPress), Conspiracy of Kindness, and Servant Warfare (both Vine Books). The Sjogrens live in West Chester, Ohio, with their three children: Rebekah, Laura, and Jack.

 
Christianbook.com: Why is it important for Christians to give to the needy?

Steve & Janie: Itís part of the message of the kingdom. Jesus said we are serving Him when we serve the poor (Matthew 25:40). It helps us to see as God sees-we get energized as we see lives transformed. Itís the normal thing for Christians to do-and it brings renewal, blessing and transformation in our own lives as well. It also feels good. And most of all Ė we need them more than they need us!

Christianbook.com: Why is it sometimes hard to care for those in need?

Steve & Janie: The needs seem overwhelming, we think we need special training, lots of money or a huge organization. We donít know where to start. Sometimes all you need is to just show up with a friend and a big smile. Here are a few fun ideas:

  • Give out quarters or bus tokens at bus stops. Go a step further and add bottled water or juice boxes, and snack-size cookies or chips. (Project 39)
  • Give out donuts, coffee and conversation at a local park. (Project 3)
  • Fill up an extra bag of grocery staples and pass it on to someone in need. (Project 7)
  • Turn your spare change into "Godís Grocery Money". Let the kids pick out food items and together give them away to a single parent family you know. Tell the family God wanted you to do this to remind them that He loves them. (Project 43)

Christianbook.com: How can reaching out to the needy impact skeptics?

Steve & Janie: Research shows that only 2 percent of those who donít attend church stay away because they donít believe in God. The other 98 percent stay away because they, for a variety of reasons, donít like what they see when they look at the church. There are millions watching us to see if we are for real, and more importantly, to see if God is for real. Serving the needy changes their view of who God is. Itís an easy way to build a bridge to let people know how much God loves them. People will not care how much you know (about God) until they know how much you care.

Christianbook.com: What unrealistic expectations do we often bring to the table when we want to help the needy?

Steve & Janie: What did Jesus mean when he said, "The poor you will always have with you"? He was stating a fact that even with all our best efforts, the reality of poverty cannot be erased. Weíve been called to care for the needy, not necessarily fix all the problems of the poor. Not necessarily to fix the system thatís causing them to be poor. He calls us to give care to the needy, not necessarily to eradicate the problem of poverty. Perhaps we will never absolutely, totally change the world. But we are making a difference.

Christianbook.com: What are some attitudes we should keep in mind while serving?

Steve & Janie: Check your motives and prejudices. Donít harshly judge others for the way life has treated them. As the saying goes, "But for the grace of God, there go I..."

  • Have the attitude of a learner.
  • Treat the needy with respect, dignity and kindness.
  • Be outgoing, smile a lot!
  • Be bold, donít hesitate to offer to pray for people.
  • Be prudent, be careful, donít make promises, be a team player, be creative.
  • Be aware of compassion fatigue.
Christianbook.com: What are some common pitfalls when initiating a ministry of serving those in need?

Steve & Janie: Forever planning and never doing and taking on too big a project. Don't assume that meeting a need means meeting all needs; know your limitations. Burnout can happen, so pace yourself. Itís a marathon, not a 50 yard dash. And realize you can do something, you need not do everything.

Christianbook.com: In your book, 101 Ways to Help People in Need, you give practical ideas, divided into four levels of service, for an outreach ministry. What is the difference between the levels of service?

Steve & Janie:

  • RELIEF Ė To give care to the immediate problem, but not focusing on bringing a long-term solution to whatís causing the problem.
  • RECONCILIATION Ė Helping people get right with God and with one another.
  • RECONSTRUCTION Ė Working toward the creation of new economic opportunity.
  • RELOCATION - Moving our physical location in order to bring the kingdom of God.

Christianbook.com: In your experience, is an outreach ministry like this always effective?

Steve & Janie: What if I fail? Not to worry! The needy are very forgiving. The straightest path to success is through failure. The needy are resilient and willing to embrace us even in our sometimes feeble attempts to minister to them.

Christianbook.com: How has doing these projects impacted the members of your church?

Steve & Janie: People are excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It has increased leadership development and it allows people to use their gifts. It brings families together and provides an outlet for creativity.

Christianbook.com: How do you go about starting an outreach ministry?

Steve & Janie: First of all - pray - ask God for fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. Talk about it, tell others your vision, they may want to join you or have ideas. Creatively finance - consider asking local business leaders for help. Look for needs. Just start-grab a friend and get out the door. Take the plunge!

We hope you enjoyed reading our interview. Read an Excerpt from 101 Ways to Help People in Need.
Also by Steve Sjogren:
101 Ways to Reach Your Community
101 Ways to Reach Your Community