Tag Archives: care for the poor

Hobo Water

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We used to live close to very busy “Round About” (or Rotunda if you’re from Costa Rica) on the main road into San Jose.  This Rotunda has a fountain that runs most days.  Some days we would see bums bathing in the fountain.  My kids were fascinated by this.  One day when we were driving around the Rotunda, the wind was blowing and the fountain was spraying all the cars on the East side of the fountain.  As our car entered the spray, my kids scrambled too late to close the car windows and screamed “Ahhhhh Hobo Water!” when they got wet.

We see homeless people every day.  And because of this, I make a mental point to notice them… even if they are just passed out on the sidewalk… because I don’t want to become insensitive to seeing them.  I don’t want homeless people to just become part of the background or the landscape of living in Latin America.  They are people too, they may be mentally ill or drug addicted, but they have parents and maybe other relatives who still wonder about them and care about them.  No man is an island.  Each person is born to a mother at the very least.  No one is a throw-away.

Behind the mall near my house is a shanty town, a “precario.”  If you drive through the street next to the precario there are signs warning you to slow down because children play in the street.  One sign says, “none of our children are extras, please drive slowly.”  I like that.  Someone is making a point to the world.  “We may be poor, but we love our children too!”  I make a point to read every word of that sign, even though I have long ago memorized it, because I like that someone is taking care in their own way.  I don’t want that sign to become invisible to my eyes.

On my daily commute from my kids’ school to the school where I teach English, I pass an empty lot.  I’m sitting in traffic long enough to pay attention to that lot and the things that happen among the weeds and construction debris left from the demolition of the building that was once on that corner.  Back in the far corner of the lot, a tile floor remains intact.  Over the last few weeks, two or three hobos have set up camp on the tile floor in the corner.  I look at them every day.  I want to see the junk that they have accumulated.  It’s treasure to them.  I noted when they found a mattress.  I noticed when they had a camp fire going.  I saw when they finally hung a sort of curtain over the door of the hut.  I laughed the day I saw a life sized, cardboard cut out of a woman advertising headache medicine propped up against the wall by the door.  Trophy wife?

I think about that life and I wonder if it’s really that much different than the life that you and I lead.  Most of us are on a life long mission to accumulate stuff.  Our houses are full of stuff we never need and don’t really want, but we can’t throw anything away because “it’s mine!”  How is our house full of fake flower arrangements and decorative bowls propped on useless side tables any different than the hobo house with the mattress and curtain door with the prized cardboard blonde holding a bottle of Tabcin?  We may have paid more for our junk, but it’s still not coming with us when we leave this life.  Our junk might look pretty in our eyes, but so does the grocery cart full of hub caps in the eyes of the homeless guy.

My point is, we aren’t all that different.  When you pass a homeless someone on the street, don’t pretend you don’t see them.  Don’t let them become the back ground of your commute to work.  Look at them.  Notice them.  Think about them when you’re at work or driving home.  Don’t let your heart be fatigued.  These people matter to God, they should matter to you too.

“Don’t let your heart grow weary in doing good.” 2 Thessalonians 3:13

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for the urgent needs of others and not live unproductive lives.”  Titus 3:14

What are you afraid of?

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Several years ago our local news station did a report about the “homeless” men that pan handle illegally in our city.  It turns out that most of them were not what they presented themselves to be.  They were not homeless, not out of work, not looking for a job, not hungry.  They were professional con artists with cellphones in their pockets and Mercedes Benzes parked a few blocks away and brand new clothes under their ratty army surplus jackets.

My friend’s husband was a manager at Outback Steak House at the time.  On several occasions he brought job applications out to the guys under the bridge near the restaurant.  Every time he was met with cursing and rejection from the con artists.  The whole business smacked of fraud and entitlement.  Coupled with the news report, it put everyone on edge and hardened our compassion towards the less fortunate.  Now the question is always in my mind, “is this person really needy?”

Other questions fill the minds of Christians too.  (Here’s another blog about that by another Christian.)  What is my responsibility to the needy?  Can I be sure that this person isn’t a con artist or a professional beggar?  What if they’re just lazy and don’t want to work a real job, am I being an enabler if I give to that kind of person?  What if they buy drugs or alcohol with my money?  Is it being responsible with my resources if I give to someone who really isn’t needy?

So fast forward a few years and I find myself living in a third world country where there are beggars at every intersection.  Every single day I see the same people begging.  There is no welfare system here, no social services to care for the homeless, mentally ill, old, sick and poor.  As a missionary, I feel the need to help them naturally, but those old questions still linger in my mind.  I have had years worth of dissonance in my spirit about what to do.  I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t feel good about my attitude.

One day I decided to ask Jesus about it (I know!  Revolutionary thought.  I should have done this years ago.)  In prayer, I presented my dilemma to the Lord and asked him what should be my attitude and my course of action.  “What are you afraid of?” he asked me.  “Are you afraid that if you give to a con artist or to someone who begs as a lifestyle that you won’t have enough for yourself and your family?  Don’t you think I’ll still take care of you?”  That was exactly it.  My fear was rooted in a lack of trust in God.

Hadn’t God always taken care of me and my family?  Hadn’t we always had enough?  Hadn’t I memorized the Don’t Worry section of Matthew 6?  And who am I to determine who is really needy and who isn’t- that’s kind of a relative measurement.  Needy in America doesn’t look the same as needy in Africa or Latin America or anywhere really poor.  So who gave me the measuring stick?

God is still honored when I give to someone who begs as a lifestyle, because he’s not looking at the size of the need that I meet, he’s looking at the motivation of MY heart.  He doesn’t care if I meet a big need or a little need.  He doesn’t care if the person was appropriately grateful or bitterly entitled.  He doesn’t expect me to be able to read the motivations of others.  He didn’t ask me to teach someone a lesson on hard work and personal finance with a side of hygiene and grammar.

He asked me to love my neighbor as myself.  And when I do that, without judging my neighbor or his need or his motivation, I please God.  Just love your neighbor.  That’s all God asks of me.

So I make a point of keeping spare change in the car and in my purse and I keep my spirit open for when the Lord prompts me to do something more… and often he does.  “More” means something different in each situation and I just trust that the Lord is meeting a specific need in a way that I never could have discerned on my own.  And never once have I found myself at the bottom of my own barrel with nothing to provide for my family.  God has been generous with me even when I didn’t understand generosity, even when I wasn’t appropriately grateful or was bitterly entitled.  God’s generosity towards me has been my example of generosity towards others.

“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the Righteous forsaken, nor their children begging bread.  They are always generous and lend freely.”  Psalm 37:25-26  Be sure to read the whole Psalm 37, it’s really good!