The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 26, 2012

Forum to address alternatives to ‘cycle of dependency’

By Scott Meeker

JOPLIN, Mo. — The challenge of creating an effective alternative to state welfare will be the focus of a leadership forum to be held Friday and Saturday.

Sponsored by Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission, the True Charity Initiative will offer a series of lectures and discussions aimed at community leaders, said James Whitford.

Whitford, the co-founder of Watered Gardens, will be joined at the forum by Victor Claar, an economics professor at Henderson State University; Eric Laverentz, senior pastor at Stanley Presbyterian Church in Kansas City; and Ed Emery, who served several terms in the Missouri House of Representatives before winning the 31st District Senate race in November. The two-day program will be held at the Mills Anderson Justice Center at Missouri Southern State University.

The definition of “true charity” is one that “involves a relationship between people where that relationship empowers and ennobles that poor, which the state cannot do,” said Whitford. “The welfare office is not intended to do that. We as a community of business, political and church leaders need to look at what charity is and work together.”

Program topics for the forum will include “Economics in Christian Perspective,” “Solidarity with the Poor,” “Charity Never Fails: Thinking Right” and “Envy and Markets: How Do We Deal with Inequality?”

Whitford said that about four years ago, he began grappling with the question if his mission was actually helping the poor or simply contributing to “a cycle of dependency.”

“What happened was that I began to watch for a tool that could connect us in our community, so that we would feel that when we helped someone, they would not just go on to the next ministry or mission and get the same stuff,” he said.

That led to the creation of a charity tracker program that today connects 50 churches and charities and monitors all of the local benevolent activity.

As helpful as the program has been, it does not address the issue of “people who are stuck in dependency or just abusive” when it comes to state and federal welfare programs.

“We feel like charity is something that God has mandated for his people,” Whitford said. “But for a federal government that is a trillion dollars more in debt each year, we’ve got to now consider at a grassroots level what the church can be doing to provide an effective alternative to state welfare.

“We call it a ‘safety net,’ but it really becomes a trap and an expensive one at that.”

More than $2 million in food stamps were issued in October in Jasper County alone, he said, and $120 million at the state level.

“I’m amazed at times when I will talk with people at our mission who might be on some form of welfare (who don’t realize) that the money is coming from someone else’s income that was taxed. There’s a lack of understanding about how the whole welfare system works.”

Whitford said he hopes the leadership forum will become a launching pad for bigger things for the True Charity Initiative.

“That plan is to form teams that will progress the initiative,” he said. “We have to work together to bolster the collaborative systems in our community.”

Want to go?

The True Charity forum will begin with a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m. Friday and the program at 7 at the Mills Anderson Justice Center at Missouri Southern State University. Saturday’s activities will begin with a continental breakfast at 7 a.m. and the program from 8 to noon.

There is a suggested donation of $20 for the two-day event, and registration can be completed online at