I came across a picture of Jesus the Homeless while browsing the internet today. I have to say it touched me deeply. It instantly brought to mind the times I have encountered people while walking who have asked me for money. It’s always a confusing time for me because I feel guilty when I say no, but hesitant to say yes. We have undoubtedly all heard stories that we shouldn’t give to “beggars” because they’ll probably just spend the money on booze or drugs, and of course there are also the stories of professional “beggars” who go home to beautiful homes and expensive cars, all bought with money earned from begging.
So what do we do? Say yes or no? I now always say no when approached on the street, but still not without at least a small amount of guilt. Yet I know that there are soup kitchens and shelters where people can go so that they are at least not hungry and not without a place to sleep. I know because my Dad used these services. Check out my story with my Dad here. My Dad was schizophrenic and was the unfortunate victim of online scams and he always gave away all of his money. Giving him cash would never help him because he would always give it away. Yet he would eat at soup kitchens (he knew where the best ones were) and eventually ended up in a shelter until we were able to find a place for him in a home. Because of my dealings with my Dad I am reluctant to give cash to a beggar knowing it might not be used for necessities.
So what can we do to help the poor? There are some easy things we can do. Donate money to organizations whose goals are to serve the poor. Give food to a food bank. Donate used clothing and household items to stores who resell at a much reduced price. These are all good and necessary ways to help.
I’d like to share a bit about how I have been able to help. I don’t usually have much money to spare so I try to find other ways to help. My kids and I host a week at a local farm with cottages and a pool that offer vacations to families that would otherwise not be able to afford a vacation with their kids. We organize activities and help out, but mostly we build relationships and have fun making sure everyone is enjoying themselves. This is the highlight of our summer. A local lady trying to get herself off of welfare started a second hand clothing store and I always make sure to drop off our clothes to her so that she can have first choice for her store. There are a few people around town that I take the time to talk to and listen to when I bump into them that are often overlooked or even avoided. They usually have great stories to tell and I enjoy our visits. At Christmas, we like to provide a family with a Christmas meal and gifts. We usually do this through a local group that has a list of families in need. I was once able to buy a take out meal for a beggar instead of giving him money. My husband and I met while we were both participating in prison ministry through our church.
The statue of Jesus the Homeless brought to mind the fact that we shouldn’t ignore someone who is homeless. We may not be able to help everyone we meet, but it is important to see the person behind the situation. What brought them to the place they are in now? Maybe it was illness, unemployment, depression, dissolved relationships, low paying jobs, prison, bad decisions. It is easy to make a quick judgement but more important to take the time to listen and to be a friend. Remember that Jesus is inside each person. Find the Jesus in them and share Jesus with them. It is through us that others will experience Jesus’ love and compassion.
How have you been able to help the poor?