Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping the Needy?

A guy walks into the office.

I need help, says he. Tells me that he’s a war veteran and was shot in the line of duty—did I want to see the bullet hole? (No).

Or he was fired from his job. And has cancer. Did I want to see the scar where they did the surgery? (No).

Or how about this: His mom died. Needs to get to a destination 12,754 miles away. His car broke down and he had to spend all his money repairing it—which is why his car works now.

Is there any way I could help him out? Besides he’s got a wife and kid.

No, I say.

Could you put us up for the night at the hotel? One with a TV and a pool?


Could you put gas in our tank?


Could you buy us some groceries?


Sometimes they send their wives in to ask while they stay in the car with the engine running.

There was a time when I helped anyone I encountered. If the church was out of funds, they could have what was in my wallet. And that’s still true if I think someone needs help.

There are the truly homeless ones who wander through, hitching rides as they go, willing to do a little work for a few bucks. I’ll help them.

I also encounter ones who have mental disorders but have lost their government aid, and I’ll help them, too, which includes getting them to other resources.

I like helping people who are trying to work, trying to hang onto their homes and feed their kids. Most churches are not equipped to take over the monthly expenses of families, but we can give some temporary help if they’re short for the month.

I’ll even help those I think are probably lying if they look hungry or desperate.

But there is a culture out there consisting of people who travel from town to town living off the grace of small churches. They tell their canned story—it’s amazing how similar they are—designed to gain sympathy. They take as much as they can get, then go down the road to bilk the next community of conscientious people.

They’re thieves.

I have done this for so long. I recognize them the second they come in the door and they make me tired, as well as angry, as I listen yet again to their patter.

It still bothers me to send them away. But I won’t give them what others truly need.


  1. Interesting you should post this. I was discussing the difference between useful helping, particularly in a sacrificial sense, and being a doormat just yesterday. It's a complicated area, particularly when christians are discussing it - how far do you go to emulate a Jesus who, we are told, died to save even ungrateful people who reject him? Do you just help everyone even when they throw it back in your face or continue in a destructive manner, or do you help only those who can give you something back? Or what? I think your approach is good, but I can see why it bothers you.

  2. Bird, It helps me to distinguish between true help and enabling someone to continue their pattern of behavior, especially it it's destructive behavior.

    Referring to Jesus, there were plenty of times in scripture when he refused to be pushed around.

  3. I always liked the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I know we can't all teach, but it's something to think about. I have had the experience of being asked for $ because a person on the street was hungry, and when I said I would not give $ but would buy them a meal, I was cursed at and dismissed. It's a rough world out there.


  4. K, yes it is a rough world. And helping others is always more complicated than it appears. No good deed....

  5. "His mom died. Needs to get to a destination 12,754 miles away. His car broke down and he had to spend all his money repairing it—which is why his car works now."

    Had a guy get me with that one once. I'm too trusting. Not so much anymore though.

  6. Mike, this subculture of vultures will concoct a story and they'll all start using it at the same time until they wear it out.