Monday, August 27, 2007

Service, Story Time

Twice, now, in as many weeks, I’ve been face-to face with beggars. For some reason, I always feel funny. A big part of me always wants to go over and give some money. I usually do. At the same time, a big part of me is conscious of a lot of social pressure not to.

We’re not really helping them, we’re told. We should give to organizations and shelters, not to beggars. They’ll just use the money unwisely. And this is not just the external society I’m hearing. These are people in the church talking this way.

But the scriptures continuously tell us to “turn not the beggar away”, and Mosiah tells us “we are all beggars” before God.

So, why am I embarrassed to walk over and hand them my spare change?

Maybe I’m embarrassed because that’s all I give. Maybe I’m embarrassed that I have so much, and that so much of it is trivial nonsense, and they seem to have so little. I’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars in the last year on game cards, for example. And there I see someone who has no work, no shelter, no life.

Maybe I’m embarrassed that so many others are critical of the beggars, and so I, too, can be the brunt of their judgment. But ultimately, that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? If I could take their scorn?

I don’t know. But I still like to go and throw a few coins or bills their way.

A couple of stories come to mind.

One of them was given me by a good friend, and is posted at his website:

A re-write of a Biblical Parable:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half-dead.

And by chance there came down that way the man's stake president: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side, saying: "I'm sure glad I'm not his bishop."

And likewise the man's bishop, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, stopping and watching for signs of self-reliance. Seeing none, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise the man's quorum leader, when he was at the place, did take out his cell phone and did leave a voice message for the home teacher. And the man's home teacher, when he did hear the message, did sigh exceedingly, knowing there was nothing he could do - having made his quarterly visit the month before.

And finally did the Relief Society president pass by, determining immediately to call the Compassionate Service leader to have the sisters deliver a meal to the dying man's family.

Which now of these, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

The other one, I don’t have a source for.

It’s a story of a sermon given by a preacher in church one Sunday. He’d spent the morning meeting with some of the poor members of his congregation, and hearing their sad circumstances, and their struggles. As he walked into the chapel to start the meeting, he shared their frustration and then got angry.

When the time came for him to stand and deliver his sermon, he began by saying, “There are people in our very congregation who will go hungry tonight, and most of you don’t give a $%#!”

A hush swept the chapel, and he continued. “…But what really gets me angry is that you were all more shocked when I said the word $%# than you were when I said that there were people in our very congregation going hungry tonight.”

And then he walked out and the meeting was over.

So, I’m fully aware, as I’m writing this, who I’m incriminating. I’m not certain that I would be the Samaritan to help the man and pay for his treatment. I’m not certain that I would be shocked about the news of people going hungry, but I know I’d be shocked if my bishop swore from the pulpit.

Would I be shocked into action?

Mark Hansen


  1. You and have talked a bit about this already. I've seen and read various takes on the "should I give or not" arguments. For me the bottom line is that I "should give what I can."

    Yes, there are all the arguments of entitlement vs. acting on your own. I understand them, but I don't know what brought this person to where he or she is now. Only our Lord does. I can only follow his example, and provide what I can. If it's not money, it's a handshake and a kindly word.

    This isn't a "lazy bum" to run off. This is a brother or sister who is hurt - they're emotionally and financially wounded. Who am I not to show them compassion?

  2. I aqree with you. Far too many of us would be more shocked by the colorful language than the fact that our siblings are going hungry. I remember my father once had an outburst similar the Bishop in your parable. The Ward gossip afterward was not about the issue he was addressing but on his choice of words.

    Personally, I always handle the beggar situation by giving them exactly what they need. A guy claiming he needs a bus ticket with get a bus ticket but not cash. A brother who claims he is out of gas will get a full tank of gas. And a sister who says she's trying to feed her family will get groceries. I think you'd be amazed how few people will accept your help when you promise to give them exactly what they claim to need. The ones that accept your charity will warm your heart and make you feel really good inside. The ones who were just looking for cash to spend on something that they don't really need will just walk away.

  3. Wow. Yeah, those stories both speak volumes. My wife and I had a discussion about this after another blog writer suggested we should give money to people asking for help, referring to the great story of Pursuit of Happyness and how some people can pull themselves out of a terrible situation with just a little bit of support.

    But we've always had a problem with the potential of enabling anyone who could do harm to anyone else (and himself) with what we give them. If we don't know what the money will be used for, it could be used for drugs or alcohol, which could contribute to that person's death, or the death of others if that person drives under the influence. So we always try to have some food and a bottle of water ready to hand out to people at street corners. If they are short of money, even if they would use money responsibly, then food will still certainly be something they need and can use in the short term to help them through that day, at least.

    Also, it's interesting to note that many times that Christ gave out blessings or healed people, there was some condition expected of them, if only a demonstration of their faith. Of course, he can judge where we can't, but there's no reason we can't also be safe and responsible with our giving to the needy. As michael taylor mentioned, try to give only what they say they are really in need of... bus ticket, gas, food, hotel room, etc.

    My wife was brought up that way, and one story she told me was how prevalent the "Will Work for Food" signs were, and yet, when her mother would pull over and offer people simple yard work for the day in exchange for some meals or even money (in that case, they would have earned the actual money), invariably the people would say "no". Only once did someone take her up on that offer, though he was looking for money to buy a bus ticket. When he showed up and eagerly asked what work they needed him to do, they had him pull some weeds for a little while and then gave him more than enough for the bus ticket.

    So I might say that there's nothing wrong with trying to determine the character and real intent of the "needy", and if they truly are needy, then we should be generous and definitely not turn them away. If they aren't truly needy, or are just being deceitful in some way, then they are more likely to turn themselves away from genuine help.



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