Monday, May 12, 2008

What do you do?

Gas stations always seem like the place to run a con in movies and on tv and admittedly, I often get hit up there as well.

In fact, I would say that gas stations and my local CVS are the two places I most often get asked for money.

Normally, in the past, I always said no. I had a friend when I was in high school who would actually pick people up who had the will-work-for-food signs and take them to her house to do work. She never really had any successful experiences with it, as they would often disappear or fabricate an excuse as to why couldn't help in her yard. So the seeds were sown that these people weren't seriously in need.

I had another experience working with the homeless in Atlanta. We prepared bags of food and took them to the streets, passing them out to the homeless. It wasn't much you know, some rice and sausage, a packet of cookies. Shadowing those with more experience, I watched when some would ask for more food. "For a friend," he said. My initial reaction was..."no way!" But the guy I was with, chuckled and said, "A friend, huh?" and gave him another bag.

There's a verse I've struggled to understand all my life. It seems so hard and it flies against all logic and reason.

This verse rattled around inside my brain when I said no to the guy at CVS who wanted to wash my car windows for some change. I was in a hurry to go grab my lunch and didn't want to take the time. He's asked me for money before, but at least this time he was even willing to do some work for it! As I drove away, I felt seared by the words in this verse.

This same verse popped up immediately Friday night when I stopped for gas, and a woman approached me. She claimed she was bleeding, though I couldn't see any blood and had just escaped from her abusive alcoholic husband, but needed some gas. I didn't believe her. But those words...those words were pounding in my head.

They come from Matthew: Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
So I bought her ten dollars worth of gas. Was it a con? Yes, but I knew that going in. I especially knew it when a man walked by with a gas can as I was filling up my own car and pointed to the car and asked for some help to buy gas. (was he the alcoholic abusive husband?) Even though they lied to get some gas, I don't know what was really going on in their lives. I don't know God's purpose for our lives intersecting that night, or for the sense I had that I needed to obey and give them money against my better judgement.

Could I have given that ten dollars to an organization that would have used it more wisely, like Compassion? Perhaps, but in truth I might have ended up spending it on Diet Mountain Dew or something.

I'd love to know what you all think about this verse, how you apply it to your life and what you do in these situations. I think it's worth talking about and I'm hoping to get a little discussion.


Flora said...

One of the things that impressed me about my husband when we were dating was that he made a point of carrying around Clif bars or granola bars just in case he saw someone asking for money. I thought that was a pretty good plan, but I've never dealt with the "need money for gas" one. I'm a little more jumpy in those situations, though I have passed by people I knew I should have given to. It's easier to give to faceless organizations sometimes. There's that level of separation you don't get with an individual on the street.

ldperez said...

Living in Costa Rica, we face these situations often. I have people come to my house often asking for food. Kind of like Flora's hubby, I keep a stash of dried beans or canned goods ready to give to them. That way I know I'm not giving away something I am going to need for my family later in the week. I don't always succeed in giving with love, however, because no matter when they come, with 3 girls at home, it is always an interruption to what I am doing. I know that if I give without love it is not worth anything. But I also know (and this is why I decided to keep a stash) that even if they are lying to me about why they need the food, I most likely have way more than they do. It is pretty humbling for most people to beg. I never give money. We give our money to church, people we know in need, or organizations. Marco thinks we are "known" around the neighborhood for giving out food, but I'd rather that than err on the side of not giving enough or turning somebody down when they are in need. I have never been approached for gas money, though, and that situation sounds a little more scary. Not sure what I would do there.

R.L.Scovens said...

I run across people asking for money all the time. Sometimes I give and sometimes I don't. It's funny because when I do give, it's because I heard a distinct voice saying to do so.

When I don't give, I don't feel guilty because I know that alot of people are pulling a scam.

I give when I have it. Somedays I really don't have money on me. I don't think you're obligated to give money to strange people whenever they ask you. If you see that they need food and they ask for food, then give, but if they're asking for money, you just have to follow your first mind.

Sometimes I get really upset when people ask for money. Maybe I shouldn't, I don't know. If it happens someplace not around where I live, I'm fine with it.

Should we try to figure out if the need is real or not? I think the answer is yes. Maybe I'm in the minority.

Amy said...

Very interesting everyone. I think the gas money thing will happen more and more...I mean ten dollars (which I actually put into the car myself) only bought like two gallons of gas.

Leah, I think it's good to be known for your generosity...though it may bring more beggars. I mean, truly isn't that what it's all about? Being known for that stuff?

R.L., I agree that sometimes by giving we are enabling. in fact, I have some more thoughts on this that got stirred up by these comments that I may post about in the future.

Krista said...

I had this situation one time and I really felt pressured and used. It was actually on an indian reservation and some people said they ran out of gas and were trying to get to X. I said I didn't have any money so they asked if I would put some gas in their car (I always buy gas with a credit card). I said okay, $1 (this was 4 years ago) and he put the nozzle in the car and then didn't stop. I practically had to yell at him to stop and I just felt totally used. I will NEVER do that again.
That said, when I lived in Seattle I saw the guys standing on the off ramp corners all. the. time. And usually if I had some spare food in my car handy I would give it to them. I never gave money though.
When I was in college I worked with a group called Urban Services that would go into downtown Portland every Friday and help serve a meal on the street to the homeless. This had been going on for so long there were regulars. I got to know a couple of them and what frustrated me the most was that some of them were quite literally choosing to live like this. To have no responsibility and just live off whatever they could. Not my choice for sure, but it also felt again like they were using us by not even trying to be productive members of society.
I guess this is my rant. I never give money to people/causes I don't know, but if I have it handy I will give food.

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