But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help — how can God's love be in that person? (1 John 3:17 NLT Ed. 1)
We were on vacation and in an unimportant hurry — you know, one of those hurries more from habit than from necessity. We had been "hit-up" by street beggars already in downtown Portland, so it was too easy to brush off this one young lady who asked for money for breakfast. We rushed by her and someone with my voice said, "Not today." We rushed on trying not to make eye contact.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I don't mean to bother you."
As she looked away in embarrassment, I caught sight of her eyes for a split second. They have remained a haunting presence since then. I tried to shove them to the back of my memory with the jolt of guilt that ran through me that morning. However, those haunting eyes have apprehended my thoughts several times this past week.
Donna brought them back to me with great force at supper the night before we completed our Portland trip. She had just finished saying grace over our nice, but not all that expensive dinner. She then looked at me and said, "It has bothered me all week that we didn't help that girl who asked for breakfast money our last day in downtown Portland. She was different than those other folks who had hit us up in front of the hotel. I wish we had bought her breakfast. She was polite and a bit ashamed and she seemed to truly need it. I'm worried about her."
We talked about care bags that some of our SHYG teens make up for street kids. We talked about how we need to get our small group to join them in doing the same thing and distributing the care bags to those in need as we meet them in our city.
We are eager advocates for the Dry Bones ministry which reaches out to help street kids in Denver. Dry Bones helps in tangible and genuinely loving ways and also leads more than a few of these abandoned and often abused street kids to faith in Jesus.
We believe firmly that the Old Testament principles of helping the poor — sometimes called alms — are responsibilities that we have above our tithe to Kingdom giving and paying taxes. We also believe in the Old Testament principle of leaving 10% of the harvest uncollected so that the poor have food to eat — a reminder that a much bigger chunk of my blessings need to be shared with others in need than I often consider.
We believe in the importance of helping a child through Compassion International and are doing our little part to help in a small way with at least one child in a tough situation.
What I left for a tip for that meal our last night in Portland would have been enough for that young lady on the street to buy breakfast for two mornings. Her haunting eyes returned and are now tattooed to my memory and etched in my heart. I am guilty for not helping her. I don't feel ashamed — unproductive and unnecessary guilt. I am just plain guilty.
I am grieved.
I commit to do better.
I will be more prepared.
I plan to be better prepared to help in three ways:
First, I will ask for the person's first name and will pray for people like this that I meet in future by name. I want to see them as more than a label or problem, I want to see them as someone in whom the work of God needs to be done. (John 9 as Jesus demonstrates this principle.)
Second, I'm going to get some McDonalds gift certificates or Burger King gift cards that I will carry with me to give to folks in these circumstances. If I fast one day per week, I can easily set aside five or 10 dollars a week to dedicate to this purpose. Then when I'm traveling, I can be better prepared and ready to help without giving cash.
Third, I'm going to start making care sacks to keep in my truck so that I can share them with folks in my home town that have these kinds of needs. Take a look on my blog today and I'll list some things that will go in my care sacks and I'm looking for your suggestions about what to put in these kinds of care sacks based upon the time of year and where you live.
I want to invite you to join me in doing these three things. You may have some other similar or even better ideas on how to help with these kinds of needs. Please share those on my blog page so that others can use your ideas as well.
Finally, I know there will be some who think this is enabling folks who are free-loading — some may even quote Paul's warning to the Thessalonians, "If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NAS) No doubt, there will be some who take advantage of us. However, I would remind us all of two things. First, what Paul said was directed toward those in the Christian community, he wasn't speaking of our relationship with those outside the fellowship and discipline of the Christian community. Second, Jesus not only fed hungry people, most of whom did not deserve it, he also reminded us that when we fed the hungry we were serving him. (John 6 and Matthew 25.)
I will try to be responsible in who and how I help. However, I am even more committed to never turn a calloused heart to a person in need. I don't want to walk away with the memory of haunting eyes and the guilt of a heart unlike Jesus.