Before I started Mission Year, I was running the sandwich ministry at a nonprofit for the homeless. It annoyed me when I saw the same guys who came in to get food stand out on the street corners with signs that said, “Hungry.” I knew they knew exactly where they could go to get food.
But ever since I stood on a street corner to beg, I have been much more aware of people who ask me for money. It is harder to pass them by because I know what it feels like to be passed by.
Proverbs 21:13 comes to mind: “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.”
That’s why I stopped a few weeks ago when a woman asked me for money as I was walking home from work after getting off the trolley. She immediately launched into her story: she needed baby food. It cost $7.99.
I pulled out my wallet and counted out eight dollars. It was more than 10% of my monthly stipend, but I figured it was worth it.
However, when she saw how readily I gave her the money, she preceded to insist that I also give her enough so that she could get some dinner for herself. I told her that two more dollars was all I could spare. She insisted on five. “Then I can get a nice chicken meal,” she said.
Seeing my reluctance, she told me that her name was Kim, said she lived around here, and gave me the address of a house a few blocks away. Feeling manipulated and used, but wanting to help a neighbor (this is Mission Year after all), I gave her a five and continued on my way home.
When I arrived home and had time to process what had just happened, I wondered if I would ever see her again and if I should go visit her on Saturday. I quickly realized that that was the last thing I wanted to do. I hated feeling manipulated, and I was afraid that she would ask me for more money.
However, the following Saturday, with great reluctance and at the urging of one of my teammates who promised to accompany me, we set out for the address she had given me. But after walking up and down the street twice, we realized that it didn’t exist.
I had either heard her wrong (which was a distinct possibility – I did have a lot on my mind), she had deliberately given me the wrong address, or the address that she had given was for the large building on the corner that we didn’t see a number for and appeared to be abandoned.
At any rate, it didn’t look like I was going to see her again. A wave of relief washed over me. At least I tried, I thought.
But my relief was short-lived. Soon uncomfortable questions started to invade my consciousness and upset my complacency: Did I treat her with kindness, or did I just want her to go away? Should I be giving away money at all? Wouldn’t it be better if I bought something for her and spent more time with her? Was $10 really all I could spare? Am I saving money because I don’t trust God? What are my priorities?
I realize now that I didn’t want to get to know her. I didn’t want to enter into her pain.
I’d had a long, stressful day at work and I just wanted to get home. And I still don’t know the answers to the last questions. But I am praying that God will keep working on my heart and bring me closer to Him.
Malia Walden is a member 2012-13 West Philly Team. She studied Peace Studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. You can follow her writings at her blog, West Philly Adventures.