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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking Care of the Poor Without Being Taken

We have a responsibility to feed those who are hungry. Jesus did not give us a pass on this no matter whether we rich or of moderate means. However, many Christians are helping people continue in unhealthy lifestyles by giving to freeloaders. That is much different from those who are hungry. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the outsider and visit those in prison. This isn't an easy task if you take your responsibility seriously.

Many people who come to the church and ask for a handout are freeloaders. They have learned how to con pastors and church members into giving them money. Many times this money goes directly toward alcohol and drugs. I used to give money to those who said they were hungry. I asked them if the money would be used on alcohol. They would act offended and tell me that they didn't drink. I let them leave and followed secretly followed them to the liquor store. This happened every time I followed someone who "didn't drink."

The stories I have been told are never original but those who tell them think they are. I have taken a man to get something to eat who claimed he hadn't eaten in three days. I watched as he had a hard time getting it down. He was already full. Since I have fasted for three day stretches I knew what it felt like to go without food for three days. I know that I would haven't left a thing on the plate. This man was very disappointed in me. He wanted money-not someone to feed him.

Then, there is the story where you are told that his mother died and he needs a bus ticket to get to the funeral. The place will generally be within a forty to fifty dollar bus ticket. There are variations on this story. Sometimes one of these grieving sons has forgotten he has already come to me a few months earlier. He assures me that it wasn't him whose came before. He actually sticks with the lie.

I love the story of the car repair. The person comes to the church with a bill from a car repair place. They usually come on a Sunday or at a time that the repair place is closed. They claim to have some of the money to pay the bill but they just need another fifty or so dollars. They have to get to work on Monday morning and they wonder if we can help. No one can verify if this is their car or if the repair place knows them at all. Car repairs are often made with estimates which are thrown away in the trash when people don't accept the cost or the work to be done. It's easy to get an official looking estimate.

Then, there is the rent and the utility stories. Often these are true. The people have allowed them to go unpaid for months and are about to be evicted or have their power cut off. They sometimes need nearly a thousand dollars to keep things as they have them. Often the will accept a call on their cell phones while they are asking you to help them with their need.

The police once told me that the people who stand at intersections asking for money usually get from $200 to $500 a day. That's tax free. The police said they will never get a job as long as they can make that kind of money without paying taxes on it.

Sometimes a man will send his wife in to ask for the money. The children as sent along with her. The truth is that she may not be his wife, they may not be her children and they may neither be homeless nor hungry. These are hard to deal with since verifying the story is difficult.

Our church has, therefore, taken a different approach. We give people food. We don't give money for gas, rent, utilities, motel rooms, bus tickets or car repairs. We give them food. This has allowed us to feed hundreds of people every week. We allot the amount of food according to the size of the family.

Are we being taken? Sure, sometimes we must be.There are times when our folks load groceries into BMWs and new SUVs. The church's reputation has become a place to get food. Therefore, we know those who ask for other benevolent needs are not local. The local community knows exactly what we do. Most of those who are poor and cannot buy enough food to feed their families are very grateful. They will not go hungry if it is up to us.

Providing only food has allowed us to feed hundreds of people per week. Giving out money for car repairs, rent, utilities and motel room would only enable us to help a few people each week.

Not everyone is a con artist but I can tell you some of the telltale signs if they are.

If they come to the church for help on a Sunday morning, they are likely to be a con artist. People who are in real need do not want a crowd around. They want to be helped discreetly.

If they ask you for more money after you have met what they asked for, they are likely to be a con artist. People who are in real need will not try to get more out of you. They are grateful for what they get.

If they come with a bill after normal operating hours of the place where that bill was issued, they are likely to be a con artist. An honest person doesn't mind if you verify the need and comes at a time when it can be verified.

If they stand outside the church and ask for money, they are likely to be a con artist. These people are taking advantage of the fact that the next person doesn't know what the last person gave them. They can accumulate quite a sum standing outside the church.

If they ask for the pastor rather than asking for help, they are likely to be a con artist. Most people don't know where to go for help. Many times the pastor is tired after a worship service and just wants to eat lunch before doing other pastoral duties during the day. He is most likely to give them money out of his own pocket just to get away. They know this and want to do so with a church member watching.

If they ask for a bus ticket or gas money, they are likely to be a con artist. They know that most people will not verify their need. They will not buy the bus ticket and wait until the bus takes them away. They will not go to the gas station. I have actually tried to put gas in a car which already had a full gas tank. Of course, the response was that the gas gauge must have been broken.

Should we take care of the poor? Absolutely, without question. Should we be taken by con artist? I don't think so. We are responsible for each resource which the Lord allows us to have. We are responsible for putting all of it in His hands to be used for His glory. Putting money in the hands of a man who will be later found drunk under a bridge is not responsible stewardship.

So, we should really help people but let's make sure that we really help people.

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’


Anthony Chia said...

I wonder how frequent this is, con artist plying your church!


Prentis McGoldrick said...

Almost daily. I've confronted many of them with their lies. Funny, they stick with the lies even when they are proven to be lies.
We are in a prominent section of town and it is assumed that we have lots of money. That isn't true. We minister to those who are unchurched. The unchurched have to come to a place where they understand giving. That often takes as much as two years before they really get it. We have lots of military who are hardly here two years. Many of those who arriving here do not trust in Christ for a year or so. That means we hardly ever benefit financially from those we minister to. We would be in real trouble financially if the church didn't have a wonderful group of senior adults who give sacrificially.

Anthony Chia said...

Oh, that is very frequent.

Oh dear, that, I believe is not so common over here.

May God continue to bless and provide the means for your church's good works towards the same mandate given to our Lord to care for the needy.

God bless you

Anthony Chia