It's such a big problem. What can I do? What should I do? I don't want to be scammed. I don't want to enable someone in their drinking or drug addiction. I don't want to turn a blind eye either. What's the answer?
These questions were recently addressed in a straight-from-the-heart confession by Lysa Terkeurst over at (in)Courage. As I read through her story and remembered a few of my own encounters with people in need, I realized it was time to share these stories with you as well.
One bitterly cold winter evening several years ago, we drove past an elderly man on the corner, icicles dripping off his beard. We had only the length of the red light to make a decision and chose to drive on when the color changed to green. We knew in our hearts God was calling us to do more but let the rush of holiday excitement stand in our way. A couple hours later we left our party and went back to find him so we could pay for a cheep motel room for the night, but we couldn't track him down.
To this day I can't help but wonder if he wasn't an "angel unaware" that we failed to offer the hospitality God so clearly prompted us to give. I've never been able to pass another cardboard sign without deep conviction that God calls us to reach out to the hopeless and needy, sometimes in small ways, sometimes more.
We pray for each person we encounter who seems to be in need and have a family policy that if it is within our power to help, that will be our default plan. We have, at times, bought meals or even given cash, as God prompts our hearts. More than once we have passed someone, driven on to the nearest fast food drive-through, then circled back around to go out of our way to hand a lunch out the window. (Our kids have felt "doubly blessed" the couple of times that we've had a bag full of fast food goodies then not been able to track the person they were purchased for back down and the kids have fallen to the task of eating the food for us.) I've heard of many other creative alternatives like friends who carry fast food $5 gift card to share with those in need.
As we pray for people, there are rare times God gives us peace to refrain from giving in that circumstance (simple inability to physically get to a person who is out of our flow of traffic, personal safety for ourselves and our children, or outright lack of peace that giving is what we are called to do in that particular situation), but overall we believe that unless God is telling us NOT to give, that His commandment to give is clear. I have no doubt we have been scammed a few times, but that's between the other person and God. I'm only responsible to act in obedience as God calls me.
Our church introduced us to the concept of Manna Bags. We now carry Ziplock bags in our car containing a bottle of water, a couple of protein bars, socks (sock are like gold if you live on the street, even in the heat of summer), dried fruit, etc. You could add things like toothbrush, travel size toiletries, or whatever else God puts on your heart. Check out this list of ideas.
The name being Manna Bags acknowledges that this little bag will not change anyone's world, but like manna, it can be God's provision to meet his or her physical needs for this one day. I may not be able to make a huge dent in the plight of homelessness or meet an ongoing need for any one person, but just like in the Starfish Story, I can bring a glimmer of hope to one person for one day. When I gave out a Manna Bag in a parking lot last week, the man had totally eaten his first granola bar before I even made it back to the car - no doubt he was truly hungry. As so often happens, it was the socks that really got him excited and brought tears to his eyes.
I'm also working on a list of area missions and shelters and soups kitchens and such, along with addresses and phone numbers, that we can enclose in the bag along with a written prayer so that hopefully we can help direct people to more long-term solutions. I long to help meet the needs of spiritual hunger as well as physical and continue to pray about what kinds of resources I might include that will fill this void. Please share your suggestions and ideas to help me in this!
I'll never forget the day I had just taken our kids to a special bakery and bought a loaf of gourmet bread for three times what I normally would pay in the grocery store. It was warm and fresh and we each savored a single piece as soon as we got to the car, anticipating the rest with our dinner. Pulling out of the parking lot we spotted a couple shivering by the stop sign. I had nothing in the car to give but that treasured loaf of bread and even though it was a treat they loved, my kids didn't think twice. I pointed out the couple and before I could even ask what we should do I heard from the backseat, "Roll down the window Mommy. We still have most of our loaf of bread!"
It's hard to say what that couple thought of a partially eaten loaf of bread, though I think they were hungry enough that they seemed genuinely thankful to receive it. But watching my kids give from the depths of their hearts meant more to me than a million dollars, and scam or no scam, we were all richer for the experience! "The people who needed our bread" was something they joyfully talked about for years.
"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
- James 2:15-17
Please share with me your stories. How have you been blessed by the kindness of a stranger? How have you made a positive difference in someone's life, even if only for one day? Have you witnessed creative ways we can bring comfort and hope as the hands and feet of Christ. I would love to hear what YOU have to say!