You may have noticed that I haven’t written in a while. This is partly due to the fact that I was busy moving across the world and partly due to the fact that I ran out of things to write about. Generally when I blog I like to think about a certain topic for a while, figure out what I believe and then write about it in a nice, neat little package. Then I realized that there are only so many topics that I can fit into a nice little box where I have all of the answers. So now I want to invite you into my thoughts and questions on a topic I DON’T have the answers for. I want to talk about beggars. I would guess that every major city in the world has them and it’s challenging to know what to do. Do I give money? Do I give food? What would Jesus do?
The first time I was faced with beggars I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to help, but I was told not to. At first it was hard to walk down the street or drive by in my car and not reach out. I wanted to stay locked up in my room and not face the outside world. But gradually it got easier. The faces began to fade, my heart got a little bit harder, and soon the beggars weren’t an “issue” for me anymore. I had my answer: “Don’t give to anyone.” I heard rumours about scams, kidnapping rings (as seen on Slumdog Millionaire), and the homeless using the money for drugs and alcohol. I used these stories to pacify my conscience and fuel my belief that I was doing the right thing. Then one day I realized that I had lost my compassion. I didn’t even look these people in the eye, and that was not right. So, I swung in the opposite direction. My new motto was “Give to everyone.” I thought, “This isn’t my money. It’s God’s money, so I’ll give it away any chance I get and what they do with it is between them and God.” I remember one day when some friends and I were visiting a major city in Canada and we were approached by a man asking for money. He told us a story about why he needed it, so I fished around in my wallet for some cash and handed it over. He thanked us and promptly walked into a liquor store. “Okay,” I thought, “That didn’t feel very good. I’m just a part of the problem now. Maybe it’s not so cut and dry.” Aiming for the middle of the road, I took to buying people food instead of handing over money. This works in some situations – when I have extra time to search for a fast food place, when the beggars actually want food instead of cash, when there aren’t a ton of other beggars around to swarm me – but it’s an answer that falls short in many situations.
For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I just moved to the nation of Bangladesh. We live in the capital city of Dhaka and we attend a language school where we’re learning Bangla.** In a city of over 16 million you are constantly surrounded by people. Every day as we walk to school we pass by a blind man who calls out for alms, a boy with no feet, several others with legs so disfigured they must be carried to their spot and they lay baking in the sun, an old man with the biggest smile you’ll ever see, several tender old ladies whose faces are always to the ground and they don’t seem to have the energy to whisper, a woman with a tumour in her leg the size of a watermelon, and countless other men, women, and children who spend their days begging. I walk by these people every single day. How can I ignore them? How can I help them all? How can I fix the broken system which puts them in this situation? I don’t know.
I found myself asking that good old WWJD question. What would Jesus do? Surely these people are some of the “least of these” that we are to care for from Matthew 25:40. I racked my brain for any instances in the Bible where Jesus or any of his disciples gave money to a beggar. The first story that came to mind was from Acts 3. Peter and John meet a crippled beggar outside the temple gates. When he asks them for money Peter replies, “I don’t have any silver or gold, but what I do have I will give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” and BAM he’s healed and he starts walking, and leaping, and praising God. Now THAT idea is something that puts me right outside my comfort zone, but makes me hunger for God’s power to come. I want to have the faith to approach that boy with no feet and say “in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” I don’t think I’m there yet, but I want to be. The thing that strikes me even more about this story is that the guy was just asking for some change, but in the end he got something so much more. Maybe I need to approach this by saying, “I don’t have silver and gold, but what I do have – a relationship with Jesus, love, peace, joy – these things can be yours too!”
As I continued to ponder these things this week I came across the Sermon on the Mount in my devotional time. Matthew 5:42 says, “Give to anyone who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Well that puts me right back in the “give to everyone” category, so I don’t know what to do with that piece of scripture. All I know is that this is an area that will probably challenge me until the day I die, but I never want to become numb to the needs of the people around me. I beg you not to turn a blind eye to those around you, even when there is no easy answer. So now I ask you… What do you do when the women and children tug on your shirt and say “madam, madam?” What do you do with the man who has no arms and one leg? What do you do when they tell you the money is to feed their children? What do you do when he smells like alcohol and he says he’s just having a rough time? What do you do when she’s shouting to the voices in her head? What do you do with the examples of Jesus and the disciples? What do you do?
Holy Spirit guide us.
Lead us into your truth and your way.
Let us always respond with compassion and love.
Give us your power.
To God be the glory.
** Please know that I don’t wish to put down Bangladesh in any way by writing about these things. I have a huge love for this country and a great respect for the people here. As I’ve said, this is a problem found all over the world.