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I See You, How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People by Terence Lester, InterVarsity Press, 2019.

I received this book for free as a gift for reviewing another book and was pleasantly surprised by it. I’d not heard of Terence Lester before, but he is apparently well known for a couple of long distance “walks” he made to raise awareness about poverty, and he runs a ministry called Love Beyond Walls that helps the homeless. *This review can be read in under 3 minutes.*

I began reading the book, and found it hard to put down, reading most of it in one sitting. At first though, I was not exactly sure I was going to like it, as it seemed too much story and not enough analysis. I tend to read more academic books, but that said, I ended up really liking it. Five stars! I think the book succeeded in its goal, not to analyze poverty, not to “solve” it, but to address underlying attitudes that can hinder progress in helping the poor.

Lester writes in a down-to-earth and conversational way sharing true stories from his own life (which had a bumpy start) and from his ministry to the homeless. We can literally fail to see the homeless, looking the other way. Or we do not “see” them because we stereotype them and make assumptions about why they are homeless. The book frequently brings in relevant Scripture that challenges us to realize that we can fail to see and live as Jesus did. Hagar in the Old Testament is also mentioned and how God saw her in her plight.

The book is not intended to be an analysis of the causes of poverty and homelessness, yet here and there are enlightening facts that can make the reader pause and think. For example, most public schools are funded by local property taxes, so the richer the community, the more money the school receives to educate the students. Some of us start out in life with more or less advantages. Or it may be easy to think that someone just needs to get a job! But what if they have no ID? The book highlights what a significant challenge it can be to simply get an ID when you don’t have one! Another part briefly mentions a book that came on my radar in the last 6 months: The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America. I’m very interested in reading it.

There are several stories of how a church group came in to help a poor community and even though their intentions were good, the way they helped or how they came across was not-so-good. One church just assumed and decided on a way to help, without inquiring if this was what the community really needed, and it was not. If they’d only asked, a better way to help would have been suggested. Here again is the book’s theme. We fail to truly see people. We don’t take time to listen, and instead come in as outsiders with our own agendas.

[Christians aren’t the only ones who can err here. The last couple years I regularly read environmental magazines, and I read about a group that went into a low income area to plant trees and the locals were not happy about it. Why? Basically because the locals felt invaded – outsiders just came in without asking for their input.]

I liked something mentioned in the book called the Wheel of Wellness, which highlights basic needs people have such as physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and financial. It is easier to meet a physical need such as painting someone’s house or bringing a bag of groceries than to help them figure out another need. “What can happen…is that we help people survive [physical needs] but don’t invest in what it takes to bring someone to holistic wellness. These other pieces of wellness move people from survival to escaping the systemic type of poverty that keeps families trapped for generations.” (page 111)

One brief section mentions that the church needs to get more real about mental health, and some resources are suggested (web sites, books, videos, organizations). One of the books caught my eye as it was one I read for a seminary class: Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. It was an insightful and eye-opening read.

A practical excerpt from page 115 says: “While working on my counseling degree, I learned this secret: ask questions and listen. You don’t need all the answers; you actually don’t need any answers. It is as simple as entering into the world of others without having answers but simply responding and being present. If they need more help, help them find it.”

Jesus was present, and he entered into the world of others.

I’m not sure I’ve adequately described this book to you. It was inspiring. Even when it challenged – such as highlighting ways that we as individuals or churches miss the mark – I did not feel judged but simply encouraged to approach things differently. Practical ideas are offered to truly see marginalized people, restoring their dignity. We may feel overwhelmed by the needs around us, but the book encourages us to see the ONE. Jesus told that parable about the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find one. We can begin with one.