Sunday, December 4, 2011

When Your Beggar Meter Needs Re-calibration

One of the difficult things that a missionary has to deal with is how do you respond to street beggars.  I am conscious that what follows may offend some, but please be patient with me, God is still at work in my heart.

 My Dominican pastor friend keeps a jar at his desk filled with 5 peso coins (equivalent to 12 US cents).  Depending on the look of the person who arrives begging at his church door, he decides how many coins to give. Interruptions are minimal as he gets one or two visitors an hour (this is heavier traffic than in a residential area, because his church is downtown).  Until I saw this, I pretty much avoided beggars as I didn't know how
to respond. For years now, I try to keep a few coins in my car ashtray for just purposes such as these. I also try to keep a few Christian tracts on hand to give with the coins.  We also have a number of windshield washer dudes that pop out of nowhere from time to time to do you the unbidden favor of cleaning your front windshield.  They get upset if you don't have anything to give them.  I believe that is why the wiper on my back window is bent and does not work efficiently now.

One day a pitiful looking windshield washer guy asked to clean my window, I motioned not to do it, and he stopped and started walking past my window.  I called him and gave him a 10 peso piece and a tract and told him not to worry about my window. He got a big smile on his face. Since then, I have credit with him.  Anytime he washes my window unexpectedly and catches me without coins he tells me I can pay him later.

Ten pesos (25 cents) doesn't seem like much, but the minimum daily wage is about 280 pesos ($7.50 US), even less for agricultural workers.  That means that if 28 people give him 10 pesos, he is making the same wage as a diligent factory worker. (I try to justify my reasoning for only giving 10 pesos, some people give five, or some three or less).  Every day I have to deal with these questions, and live with myself.

Obviously if a person who looks drunk or like a drug addict arrives at your gate (at home) asking for money, the wise thing to do is get him some food, or a fruit, or something edible, but no money. You can try to talk to him about the Lord, but they usually only have one interest: money.

I am afraid that over the years a person can get hard hearted when it comes to beggars.  One time a person told me their wife had cancer, and they showed me a prescription that they needed filled from the pharmacy.  When I told them I would help, and go with them to purchase the medicine.  They refused to go, and left. That did not raise my image of "people in need" much.  I am sure this contributed to the "heart hardening" process.

Actually the term "beggars" may not be a good term for every person that shows up at my gate asking for money. Some are just people in desperate need.  Last week, my two lead carpenters were at my house.  We were talking in the carport, when a little disheveled old man with a machete tied to his waist, and a little sack of tools in a rice sack tied to his back, drew close to us to ask for money.  I really didn't notice the tools and assumed he was just a beggar.  I was absorbed in the conversation with my carpenters and hardly paid him any attention.  He began to move on down the street when Aquilles (one of the carpenters) called him back. "Viejo, toma", old man here take this.  He handed the man a fifty peso bill ($1.50 US).

The old man looked at the bill and his face lit up, and with tears he bowed his head and said thank you, bless you, bless you.  This prompted Juan (the other carpenter) to give him another twenty pesos.  He was so happy! I was amazed by the transformation of his face.  He had looked so depressed and down, and now his face glowed brightly, and what a smile he had.

I was stunned, I didn't offer anything.  I was like a silent spectator in shock.  Aquiles looked at me and said, "This old guy is just down on his luck, if it weren't for God's grace it might be us."

Lord help me to be sensitive to these people.  These "beggars". That old man had seemed unimportant to me.  But I know he meant something special to you, God.  Those carpenters saw what I couldn't see.  Just a man down on his luck.  I have so much, he has so little.  I don't know why that is so. Lord help me to re-calibrate my Beggar Meter.  Help me to be more sensitive to those around me.  Help me to handle these interruptions with grace. Help me to remember that truly you have been gracious to me.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing, sometimes a lesson someone else learnt goes a long way for others too.

  2. I'm glad that Jesus never gives up on us when we admit we need help.