It started with wanting to get ice cream for my 8-year-old daughter. As I held the door to McDonalds open for her I noticed a man approaching in dusty, dirty clothes. As he tried to get my attention all I could think was, “Oh boy, here it comes.”
Sure enough, he asked me if I could buy him a McRib Sandwich. Hesitantly, I said OK.
As we waited for our order, I tried to get between my child and this stranger. As my daughter’s ice cream cone was piled high, the stranger’s sandwich was hid in a to-go bag and set on the counter, as if they were asking him to leave.
This time of year, we’re going to be asked for money. Whether it’s when we’re walking into the grocery store, from our car on the street corner or just stopping at the gas station – it happens.
So how do we respond in a Christ-like way?
Cynthia Massie and Chris Millheisler work in the inner city ministry of Cru and while they agree there are no hard-and-fast rules on how or when to give, they have some helpful thoughts on responding wisely:
They believe sensitivity to God’s leading is key.
“The person with God’s heart will naturally have a heart for the poor and will listen to the story of that man or woman,” Cynthia said.
Yet, we find ourselves not knowing how to help. We think of excuses LIKE thinking we’re enabling, saying they’ll just use the money to purchase alcohol or drugs.
Then if we don’t give we’re playing judge, making assumptions about these people we don’t know who are in a situation most of us have never known.
Judging them might help us escape a feeling of guilt, but the cost may be we miss an opportunity to love our neighbor and a chance for them to experience God’s love and grace.
So what can we do?
- Think local: Find out about local Christ-centered organizations. These groups have experience and an understanding that can provide long-term, sustainable help.
A great way to help the poor in your city is to support these organizations. Create small cards with the name, website and phone number of the organization that you can offer to someone who needs help.
- Think beyond panhandling: “Those most vulnerable are often the least visible,” Chris said. The panhandlers who seem to be the poster children for homelessness are not always those in true need. There mothers working two jobs, kids couch-hopping just to sleep at night and veterans who can’t get a job, Chris said. These are the ones we could focus our efforts on.
Check with the organizations to see if there are volunteer opportunities to make an on-going impact.
Within Cru, there are opportunities like mentoring in an after-school program like a S.A.Y. Yes! Center or assisting in an Adult Development program. There’s even opportunities to help pack holiday food supplies with Boxes of Love. Take some time to learn about more opportunities to give of your time and money.
- Think food: This rules out the drug and alcohol problem entirely. Offer packaged food or a gift card to a local restaurant.
Food items like granola bars are easy to keep in your car or handbag. Ten-dollar gift cards from McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food restaurants can go a long way. These restaurants are easy to find, open most days and casual enough to make anyone comfortable.
- Think dignity: If you feel led to offer cash, don’t just give pocket change. Giving dimes may say to someone that’s about how much they’re worth, Cynthia said. So when giving, try to be aware of what the gift will say to the person.
- Think beyond the holidays: “If people need food on Thanksgiving, people need food all year long,” Cynthia said.
- Think big picture: Poverty is complex and involves much more than the lack of material things. Choosing to be involved with people in need isn’t always easy, but few things that really matter are easy.
“We don’t like messy,” Cynthia said. “But we’re all messy, broken people. We dress it up on the outside but inside we’re all messy broken people.”
Though we may not be in need materially, we’ve all been spiritually bankrupt before we met Jesus. We are given an overflowing bank account of grace. With this we can look to give Jesus' grace to others.