Tuesday, April 05, 2011

what to do?

So I've been dealing with something quite frequently here in Denver.
Honestly, I've felt annoyed and angry about this dilemma and I thought I should ask for some insight from my blogger friends.

On more than one occasion I have been approached by an individual with some sob story about how they need just a little bit of money to buy a bus ticket to their mom's funeral or cab fare to get to their sick sister, etc etc. They go on and on about how they just need a little bit more cash to get what they need and they will even have tears in their eyes sometimes. It's really hard for me to feel compassion for these individuals because I know they're lying. It angers me that they're trying to take advantage of me. We don't have a ton of money rolling in. We're trying to do the best we can living in this expensive new city, preparing for our baby boy, living off of just Alex's income. We don't have money to be giving away to every person who asks. Don't get me wrong, I believe we are so rich and so blessed and we try to be generous and give as much as we can...but I can't give money to some stranger who could or could not be telling me the truth about their sick dad on his deathbed.

This weekend I think I reached my breaking point. Alex and I stopped at an ATM to get some money to pay for our baby's crib. I waited in the car and a women approached Alex to ask for some money. Her story was outrageous and I just knew she was lying. And this is my baby's money! This is money we need so that our baby can have a place to sleep. How dare she lie to us and basically steal from our baby so she could go buy drugs or alcohol or whatever else she wants. I was outraged. Alex asked me to talk to her because with my counseling background he felt I might be able to get somewhere with her. But I was fed up. I wanted to get our money and hit the road. I didn't have time to waste. So I never spoke with her.

Once we were on the road I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt. She's broken...just like I'm broken. She needs love and compassion and someone to talk to. She needs the gospel. But I was too annoyed and pious to even look at her. And the whole reason we moved to this city was to share the gospel with lost people like her...but I didn't.

I'm not looking for any comments trying to make me feel better or telling me what a good person I am or anything like that. I've talked it out with Alex and I've prayed to God about it. I know He loves me no matter what and that I will fail sometimes. I'm okay with that. But what I am looking for is advice on how to deal with these situations. What is the gospel thing to do here? I know these requests for money from strangers aren't going to stop. I will be stopped on the street again and made to listen to some sob story. What should my response be? I must add that I don't always feel safe in these situations. Sometimes I'll be out walking Jaxon by myself and be stopped for money (our neighborhood isn't the best, it's a bit on the "ghetto" side with drug deals happening in the alley or on the open sidewalk) by a big man and all I want to do is get away from him. I fear for my safety or my baby's safety or even Jaxon's safety. But I don't want to be dominated by fear.

Again, any gospel advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, friends!


Anonymous said...

Welcome to urban life!! This issue will never go away as long as you live in a city. I've been dealing with this conflict for many years and in many different cities. The most productive approach I've seen is researching referrals for services based on neighborhoods- homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. - where a person who needs assistance can go and get holistic care. Look up the Christian outreach or community centers near your neighborhood and try to connect people to those resources.
I know a guy in ministry who could give you the hook up to some great centers- his name is Antonio and he works for DOOR Denver- e-mail him and let him know I mentioned him Antonio@doornetwork.org.
I never give people cash- it won't solve their problems and usually prolongs a substancial issue that requires more resources than a few bucks. And when you are out walking your first priority should always be safety...do not stop to talk to people when you are alone or in a secluded area. This is not ungodly, it is common sense.
- Juliet

Anonymous said...

I basically echo what Juliet said about having resources to share with them. One thing that I have done in Miami (I have hit this wall of frustration too) is to keep a box of granola bars or something like that in my car to hand to someone when they ask for money. This is easier when driving, obviously doesn't solve the problem when walking Jaxon.

Anonymous said...

It's one thing when someone who is hungry is asking for money or food. But these people don't want granola bars or resources. They want just $15 or $20 to buy a bus ticket to see their sick grandma or something. Their stories are outrageous. They're not homeless or hungry. These situations are unique from people begging on the side of the road with a cardboard sign.

Maria said...

Blessing someone is not only done by giving them money, don't feel guilty it happens to all of us that at one point or other have been in that situation, remember that God sees the offering as a hug, a word of encouragement or an invitation to your church or a church close by, you did what God puts in your heart to do and us mot always blessing someone with money, but also with love and moral support, and that to some people is worth millions. I had a teacher in bible college that taught me that the Lord says " When you can't talk to people about ME, talk to me about them " !!!! Just a prayer is a huge offering to someone in need when that's all you can do at that moment !!!

Anonymous said...

I lived in DC for a little while, and I dealt with that a lot - both people asking for food money and weird sob stories for cash as well. My first reaction is to do what you've done... I'm not made of money and $5-$20 to every single person who asks isn't going to do anyone any good. Look for ways to help them (as long as it's safe) that you can legitimately do. Treat them like adults. Tell them your circumstances, that you don't have a lot of money either, and that you're faced with a lot of people with similar stories asking you for money. Even if you think they're lying, talk to them about whatever "story" they're giving you and ask them for some practical ways that you can help them instead. You'll be able to catch them in their lie as they try to keep up the story, and/or really be able to help them. And if all else fails, ask if you can pray for them and do it right there. Ask them their name, and talk to them if you see them again. It will be challenging and will take you way outside of your comfort zone - at least, when I'm in the right circumstances to do it, it's super hard for me personally. And of course, doing it under safe circumstances is always important. If a guy approaches me and I'm alone (or really anyone who makes me feel uncomfortable or threatened), I don't stop, or I go immediately to a safe, crowded place or find Ben or a good friend. I would second what Juliet said for sure. You could spend some time volunteering at a local homeless shelter or find an organization that deals regularly with these types of people and learn more about how to show them lasting love, to carry on a better conversation when they approach you, help them to change their lives for good.

I know that part of the challenge is being frustrated because they're lying and wasting your time. As a believer, I would encourage you to think like Christ, and see them as someone struggling with sin and in need of Him just like you. Maybe your issue isn't lying and "stealing", but just because you're not the one begging on the street, it doesn't make you any better or your time more valuable. And, you know I say that in love girl. :) I struggle with this exact thing. "Why should I waste my time trying to figure out how to talk/witness to this person who's just trying to pull a fast one and take my money?" Just remind yourself of Christ's impartial love when you're tempted to just be irritated and pass them by completely.

Sorry - that was a lot. Hope it's helpful. I love you!

Merari said...

My strategy, if you will has always been to say:

"I'm so sorry ________ is happening. I don't have much to offer you, but can I pray for you and ________ right now?"

either they say yes, and maybe you can have a good convo after, or they curse you out and walk away. Win/Win for me :)

Jud and Shannon said...

In Denver, there is an enormous homeless population, but in the same hand, there are SO many ministries to point them to, so you don't feel like you have nothing to give. (If you're interested in a list of them let me know and I can get you one). I think it's especially hard here because you honestly see the same people on the same corners everyday. And it's so hard when people would rather do that than actually get help. So I TOTALLY understand your frustrations. Hope this helps!

Lauren V. said...

Thanks for your honesty in talking about what you're dealing with. I don't have any suggestions, really, other than what has already been mentioned - connect them with resources, ask to pray for them and keep yourself and Liam (and Jaxon! Your his steward too :) safe when you're out walking. One thing we've thought about doing for panhandlers is having ziplocs full of necessities: toothbrush, toothpaste, granola bars, bottled water, socks, etc. to hand out when someone asks for food money.

Bus money is another story, and I think nowbroughtnear's advice is on point. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Remind yourself that the little money you do have is by the grace of God - not because of any good works of your own. Seek to extend God's grace and salvation to those people who are obviously broken and in need of His healing. Remember, we are motivated to be generous by the generosity shown to us in Christ. He didn't give us money, but truth and salvation. You can extend the same to them.

We're praying for you guys, and will pray about this specifically. Love you, friend.

Dj Soundwav said...

Great post. And I agree with everyone. I'm living in Downtown Miami now and get approached often. Though, sadly, I just tell them I can't help them, I have suggested the help, but most of them want something instant.