“Treat one another justly. Love your neighbors. Be compassionate with each other. Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor. Don’t plot and scheme against one another – that’s evil.”
— Zechariah 7:9-10 (Msg)
OCCUPATIONAL safety and health was my professional field for nearly twenty years before I launched into fulltime ministry. It was a role that involved me as an advocate for the vulnerable as I sought to support workers, managers and teams make for a safer and healthier workplace. One thing I found was a constant. There’s a power differential in many relational situations, and many people feel they don’t have a voice.
The vulnerable need a voice. I know God has called me to be that voice.
I’m assuming if you’re reading this article you, too, may be called to be a voice; an actor for the voiceless in some sort of pastoral care capacity.
Those potentially exposed and vulnerable are those subject to domestic or family violence, immigrants, women and children, marginalised groups, new workers, the mentally ill, young people, older people, and people in a life transition. This list goes on, unfortunately.
Here are four ways to advocate for those who need support:
1. Truly understand their needs. We often think we know what people’s needs are, but we might go off on our own tangent, based out of our own material of unmet needs. The first step is to truly listen. We have truly listened, and more fully understand, when we can paraphrase back to them what they said and they fully agree with our understanding.
2. Truly understand what action they need you to do. Although people won’t often know what they want us to do, they often know what they don’t want us to do. Don’t do anything you know or feel might make things worse for them. We are there to add value and to reduce their burden. Adding to their burden is never justified, no matter how right it might seem to you.
3. ‘Travel with’ them. This is a term I first learned in bringing up my daughters. God told me during their teen years that my role was to be like the Holy Spirit to them; to walk beside and not impede them unnecessarily; to support, encourage, and build-them-up. Those we advocate for need us to simply ‘travel with’ them. This is a delicate dance of discerning when and how to step in and when and how to let them be. The idea is we are helping them to run independent of our help. So encouragement helps. And encouragement can become quite a passive yet effective activity.
4. Accept the time to wish them well. Not having taken their side so much as just having been there to listen and bear their burden, we are well positioned to back out of their lives at the appropriate point.
Being an advocate for the vulnerable and exposed person is a privilege replete with honour.
C.A.R.E. is about Cultivating, with Advocacy, Respect and Empathy.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.