This is a post about homeless people, or rather about our reaction to them. Are you comfortable with the way you respond to people on street corners looking for handouts?
We’ve all been there, whether we were in the driver’s seat or not. There was someone standing by the exit ramp or on the street corner, and you avoided looking at them. Breathed a sigh of relief when the light stayed green so that you wouldn’t have to stop beside them. Acted as though you’d never seen them in the first place. Maybe it’s come up in your youth group – maybe you’ve endeavored to buy a few fast food gift cards, just haven’t made the move yet. Maybe you have even reached out the window with cash between your fingers and seen their faces light up. Maybe you’ve felt the rising happiness as you drove away, after they thanked you profusely, and blessed you for your help.
Here are two clear commands from Jesus: “Give to him that asketh thee.” – Matthew 5:42 and “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” – Luke 6:38. What do we do with these verses?
I don’t know about you, but I’m profoundly aware of the thoughts that rise when I see these situations. I tell myself God wants me to be a good steward with my money. But does that mean turning down the needs around me? I say they might not use it for something good – but so what? They will remember the good you said about Jesus. I think they should try and get a real job, but what if it’s not their fault? Sometimes I can almost imagine they might be part of a huge gang, working for an evil tyrant who steals all their earnings and mutilates them to get more ‘earnings.’ Yes, we need to be careful that we don’t throw our money into Satan’s hands, but a conversation is free, and what you say will stick with them longer than the money will anyway.
Whether these people are refugees, broke, or homeless – whether they are lazy – whether they are working for some evil boss – don’t you think they would be glad if someone stopped what they were doing to talk to them and give them a little money?
My best friend was driving out of WalMart when she saw a small family standing on the curb. She drove by at first, but then circled around and stopped. She got out of her car and spoke to the man, and asked a few questions. Turns out they were from Romania and couldn’t speak English very well. Whatever their background is, we’ll probably never know. She gave them some money, then left. The situation stuck with her so much that she wrote passionately about it to me.
And often great encouragement can be one of the results of sharing with strangers. On Evangelism Day back at Bible School in Arkansas, I and a friend were profoundly blessed as we were walking into WalMart. An older man stopped us and asked several questions about us and where we’re from and Calvary Bible School. He knew Mennonites, he said, and thought only highly of them. He then continued to emphatically encourage us to continue our Christianity in purity and good deeds. My friend and I were surprised by this unexpected encounter, and concluded that he possessed a greater measure of courage than we. Especially when we had just been doing acts of kindness and talking about Jesus to strangers.
A coworker told me of his experience with a homeless man in New Philadelphia. He was with a group of friends making music in a gazebo in the square pretty late in the evening, when a homeless man sitting in the shadows came up to him and encouraged him to keep on making worship music. He opened up his heart to the group, worshipping with them and sharing how he came to know Jesus — even performing some of his own poetry for them. This homeless man wrote about how the pleasures and luxuries of this life are so fleeting, and how heaven is such an eternal treasure. Ironic, huh?
Then there was the time five days ago when I recorded this event in my journal:
On my way back out of Millersburg, at the square, there was a woman standing holding a sign. On first sighting, I guessed she was promoting a car wash and mentally turned off my attention to her. Then I noticed she wasn’t very energetic about it. Then I saw the first words: “Normal, loving mother…” and my attention was arrested. She stood looking at the ground, wrapped in a sweater, the wind blowing her black hair into her face. “NORMAL, LOVING MOTHER WHO FELL ON HARD TIMES. ALL ALONE. PLEASE HELP,” the sign read. The stoplight was red, so I watched her for at least a minute. She never looked up, and she bit her lip, as if she hated standing there. I thought of the last bill I had left in my wallet – a 20. But I also had a cashed paycheck in my purse, which made me richer than the lady five feet away from me who had a family to feed. I bit my lip, ashamed at my hesitance. Tapping my horn, I held up the money for her to see. As soon as she heard it, her eyes lit up as if she had just caught sight of rescue from a swirling river or something. She rushed over to my window. I might have said something spiritual, but they were drowned by her profuse expressions. “Oh my god, God bless you, you’re an angel, thank you so much!” poured out of her mouth as she took hold of the hope I extended. My heart shook as I drove away. The words “ALL ALONE” haunted, horrified me. How dark and hopeless such a life must be.
I’d loved to know how you feel about this. Do you have words of caution or more stories of your encounters with homeless people or needy people on street corners? Email me at myhearthisthrone (at) gmail (dot) com.