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DO YOU GIVE MONEY TO STREET PEOPLE?


Christianity Today recently asked the question, “Should Christians always give money to street people who ask for it?” They asked three different men to answer:

Gary Hoag, “the Generosity Monk, has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity.”

Andy Bales “is the chief executive of Union Rescue Mission, which works with the homeless in Los Angeles.

Ron Sider “is president of Evangelicals for Social Actiion and author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

All three of these men are active in helping the “less fortunate” of our society. All three of them are devout believers in God and in Jesus Christ. All three of them are passionate about responding to the needs of others. All three of them gave a different answer to the question of giving money to street people who ask for it. All three of them give good reasons for their answers.

Gary Hoag said to give freely and suggested three reasons we fail to do so. First, we tend to judge the street people as being unworthy of assistance. Second, we fear that giving freely may leave us without resources, not trusting God to provide for us. Third, we value possessions more than people.

Andy Bales said to give money only as a last resort. As an example of that, he mentioned having given cash to and elderly lady in Shanghai who approached him for help. Normally, he prefers that we help people by putting them in touch with benevolent missions. He says that few truly homeless people are panhandlers, but that many panhandlers treat begging as a “job” from which they “earn” generous incomes of as much as $300 per day. He points to Peter and John who healed the cripple at the Beautiful Gate rather than giving him money (Acts 3).

Ron Sider said we absolutely should not give money to street people. He says that giving money is the easy way out that can soothe our consciences while we usually end up enabling irresponsible behavior. He says if someone is hungry, buy him a meal but do not give him cash. Engage him in conversation, listen to his story, and try to point Him to the One who is the Bread of Life.

Each of these make good points. We need to learn to be generous with what we have. This is clearly taught in both Old and New Testaments in many places. Yet, we also need to be good stewards of what God has given us and use opportunities that come our way to interact with those whom we help in a way that can lead them to Christ.

In this, I’m reminded of Josh Graves’ book, The Feast (Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2009). In Part One, he “Sets the Table” as he re-looks at the ministry of Jesus as one in which He dealt with the “messiness” of our lives. In Part Two, he “Shares the Feast” as he describes experiences of the Rochester (MI) Church of Christ in an inner city ministry in Cass Park, one of the worst areas of Detroit. Even police will not go into Cass Park alone, yet on a regular basis the Rochester church feeds the homeless in Cass Park – and has done for years. More importantly, they engage them in conversation, treating them with dignity. Patrick Mead, minister of the Rochester congregation, speaks of this work from time to time in his blog, as he does here a few weeks ago. You will be moved by his description of this. I encourage you to read it.

How Do You Respond to Street People?

I usually try to provide food, gasoline, etc. rather than giving money, though at times I have given money. To be honest, often when I have given cash, it was because I did not have time to be bothered – not because I honestly felt it was the best thing to do under the circumstances.

Many times when I have offered to meet someone at the gas station or to take them to a restaurant, they have declined – suddenly realizing they did not need what they were asking for after all. At other times, they have gladly accepted my offer. In one congregation where I preached, we had a member who ran a restaurant. We had an arrangement with him by which we sent people who came to us hungry (usually travelers) to him. He fed them – and I do not believe he ever gave the church a bill for his services.

How do you handle these requests from “strangers?” With the economy in the pits, we all are receiving more requests than normal. Do we turn them away? Do we send them to the Salvation Army? Do we give to them generously? If so, how do we handle it? Do we give cash and send them on their way? Or do we engage them in a meaningful way?

I’d like to hear from you with your experiences and wisdom.

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2 Responses

  1. If you are interested, Josh Graves – author of The Feast, also has a blog.
    http://www.joshuagraves.com/

    And Patrick just updated with another blog, with pictures, on serving in Cass Park.

    • Jerry,
      My intention was that the idea for how to raise money for EEM could be considered by other people. In that light, for her to use the letter more publicity for the idea is possible than I dreamed of. However, all of this is more of an idea stage than it is a production. I do happen to have knitted something for a sister who is quite skilled in photography. As soon as she can be with her grandson, she will be taking photos of him in the baby owl cap I knitted. I told her about my plan to knit for charity but we haven’t concluded our exchange. An update: She is willing for her photo(s) to be used. They are going by the baby’s home after the Freed lectureship, in early Feb. That gives you an idea of the timeframe. She can email the photo to anyone you designate.

      As for the ministry for the street people, I have the socks ready, wrapped with God centered one line messages, but the weather has kept me indoors for the most part. Sadly, when they need help most, I am not on the street. I have them ready in the front seat of my car in case I see someone.

      But, after reading about the hugely <a href="http://tentpegs.patrickmead.net/2011/01/17/a-week-at-work/effective efforts of the Detroit congregation, I am nothing but humbled. I have to call on my connection to God which tells me that if I am doing what He has charged me with, then I am successful, no matter how small it appears to myself. (ref. the beggar outside the rich man’s gate) No one but satan would be as pleased if I quit because I felt my contribution wasn’t effective enough. If the idea for compensation works for other people, I will be thrilled.
      Anonymous Sister

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