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Helping Those 'Carrying a Backpack of Misery'

In an article Margaret Manning encourages the church to find creative ways to help those who are marginalized in society:

A recent post in The New York Times had a provocative headline: "Amsterdam Has a Deal for Alcoholics: Work Paid in Beer." The article detailed the controversial work of an NGO that helps prevent social isolation for the homeless, the poor, drug users, and those with psychiatric problems. The organization seeks to create connections and help socially exiled individuals participate in society in more healthy ways.

Their latest project, however, has provoked both public ire and praise—and rightly so. Paying alcoholics in beer may not be helpful. But one of the local mayors had a point: Alcoholics "cannot be just ostracized" and told to shape up, she said. Then she added, "You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death."

One of the participants in this program has struggled with alcoholism since the 1970s after he found his wife, who was pregnant with twins, dead in their home from a drug overdose. He has since spent time in a clinic and tried other ways to quit but has never managed to entirely break his addiction. "I'm not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am proud to have a job again," he said. While he has found a new sense of purpose he still acknowledges how difficult life can be. "Every day is a struggle," he said during a lunch break with his work mates. "You may see these guys hanging around here, chatting, making jokes. But I can assure you, every man you see here carries a little backpack with their own misery in it."

Possible Preaching Angles: The point of this story is not to argue for or against the form of payment for work. (Personally, I find it quite problematic.) The point is that the church needs to start seeing marginalized, struggling people in our community. These people are carrying a "little backpack with their own misery in it" and we must find creative ways to reach them with the gospel.

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