Recently, we were in the city for a special night out–supper and a evening out. We have both been working hard and felt we deserved a break. When we arrived at the city and Elizabeth had made a pastoral visit (pastors rarely get a complete break), we were off to find someplace to park, get supper and head for the event.
As we were walking to the event after supper, we spotted a street person begging–since there were lots of people on the street and relatively warm, it was probably a good time to be out with an empty takeout coffee cup. I followed my normal procedure–don’t look at the person and continue walking. I assumed Elizabeth would the same thing–but instead, she smiled and told him she had no change.
Before we arrived at the next one, she had dug around and found a toonie (we are Canadian–a toonie is a two dollar coin) which she dropped in the cup of the next street person we saw. By then, we were at the event sight and joined the line up.
But, here is the issue for me. How far does helping people go? Who gets the cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name? (Matthew 10.42). I have no problem helping organizing school breakfast programs for hungry kids. I think child sponsorship overseas is a great idea. As a pastor, I have always encouraged congregations to set aside funds for food and other emergency needs in the community. I have often pulled money out of my pocket to help meet a need.
But I am reluctant to give a loonie or toonie to someone on the street. I was a little more willing to do it in Nairobi, Kenya–but not much. I have read the reports concerning the issues of people living on the streets in Canada and know the various reasons why someone would be there with an empty coffee cup. I am aware that they are not the mythical scam artists who have a BMW parked around the corner to take them to their suburban mini-mansion financed by their begging. I know that many struggle with mental illness, various addictions, family breakdown, long term unemployment and so on–but with all that, I still want to hang onto to my loonies and toonies.
Does that make me a bad person, a terrible Christian? Perhaps. But maybe it also makes me a confused Christian, one who is still struggling with the limits and boundaries and responsibilities that come with the faith. Is God calling me to give a cup of cold water to the person on the street with an empty coffee cup?
I don’t know the answer. Certainly, part of the answer would be to make sure that I walk with my wife in the city and let her put the money in the cup. Interestingly, I would even give her my loonies and toonies to give put in the cup if she couldn’t find hers, without expecting to get repaid.
Most likely, there is a connection between my reluctance to part with my change and growing up poor–I rarely had money of my own growing up and when I did, it was in the form of change since only grown-ups had bills. So, while I can and have occasionally handed out the last bill in my wallet to someone with a pressing need, the change in my pocket represents a more difficult challenge. I don’t really want to give that away–and I don’t know if I need to go that far in helping people.
Fortunately, I don’t need to solve that dilemma right now. I am not in the city all that often–it is a 2.5 hour one way trip. But even more importantly, God gives me the grace I need to work through the various decisions I make in my life. If I get it wrong or am slow in dealing with something, he is loving and graceful and will keep working with me. I may decide that no matter what Elizabeth does, my loonies and toonies stay in my pocket or I may decide that I need to drop them in a coffee cup–but either way, God in his love and grace will continue to be with me, both accepting and teaching me.
May the peace of God be with you.