First the person, then the need

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By Kelly Pontsler – 

I marvel at words and language.

When I was first preparing to take an overseas appointment, someone recommended that I take a linguistics class. Not the study of a specific language, but rather the study of language itself—how words are used to communicate thoughts, feelings and descriptions.

It was fascinating. My biggest takeaway was that as human beings we are born wired to learn any language; it is experience and exposure that shapes us into English speakers or Norwegian speakers. I had to remind myself of that on many occasions as I plowed and plodded through French classes, and later Spanish and Italian. Rolling the letter “r” came with practice (and an occasional glob of spit). Inflection and rhythm came by mimicking those around me, but I struggled most with word order.

Back in a high school French class, we said farewell to a teacher’s aide. I volunteered to make the cake and in a moment of inspiration, decided to decorate the top with mini marshmallows spelling out “we’ll miss you.” Getting things turned around it said, “you’ll miss us.” I’ll never forget the quizzical look on the teacher’s face as she thanked me for my contribution to the party. It wasn’t until many years later that I even realized what I’d done. Oops.

Recently I attended a breakfast hosted by the mayors in our area, held to call attention to the tremendous work being done across the nation to end the cycle of homelessness for those who have served in the United States military. One speaker pointed out that we often refer to these men and women as homeless veterans, but she preferred to identify them as veterans who are homeless. Flip the word order, and there is a world of difference in mindset and outlook.

The Salvation Army in Las Vegas is deeply engaged with services for veterans. We are the largest provider of overnight accommodation in the city and our case management team has a lasting impact in changing the future for veterans and their families. We are humbled and blessed as we see God’s hand at work in this ministry.

Homeless veterans or veterans who are homeless? It all depends on what you see first.

As a nation, we are proud of our military personnel. We seek to find ways to honor them and remember their service. We count the cost of battle not by the pricetag on a piece of equipment, but by lives lost and lives saved. And when we pause for a moment to consider the sacrifice, our hearts fill with gratitude for their service. A veteran is who that woman is; homeless is a description of her circumstances today.

As we’ve been reminded lately, we need to see the person first. Jesus did that. His encounters with people in need always started with the person. First the person, then the need. First their humanity, then their circumstances. He didn’t just talk at them; he saw them and loved them.

As you can imagine, there is great rejoicing in our Veteran Services office every time new housing is located and a veteran takes up residence. Housing leads to a job, a job leads to getting the kids back, and getting the kids back leads to a happy, healthy family, and a future. And there’s nothing better than that.

I may have given up writing messages on cakes with mini-marshmallows but I never stop learning. Thank you, Lord, for a great team who always see people first.

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Keith Turton with volunteer “slaves.”

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A cup overflowing

A cup overflowing

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