It was later evening, and we were walking back to our car after a quick grocery store run. We saw her approach another car, speak to the driver quietly, hesitantly, and then retreat backwards with a self-conscious, quick-to-cover-embarrassment grin.
She started walking toward us, saying “Excuse me!”
We instantly bristled and became guarded. You see, spending our last several years in an urban core, the automatic assumption when a stranger approaches you, is that they want money.
And we weren’t wrong.
She was younger rather than older, white, with freckles and brown hair. She wasn’t dressed well or poorly, kind of in the middle. She quickly began speaking, asking us for help. She gestured to a truck parked nearby, saying she needed to get her kids home to her grandmother’s house, just up the road. She asked if we knew the town she lived in – which we didn’t.
We were cold and callous, because in my head, I pictured another story, a story she wasn’t telling. Maybe alcohol, or drugs, or for something she wasn’t mentioning. She continued to ramble on, not in an incoherent way, but in a frantic, not-sure-what-she-was-going-to-do way. She continued to say over and over, “I’ve got these kids, I’ve got to get these kids home.” And we looked over, and sure enough, there were three or four kids in the truck, some looking at us, some not.
We really weren’t sure what she wanted. We didn’t know if she wanted food, or gasoline, or money. And the whole time she was speaking, I thought about how hard we work for so little. Even as she walked up, I had decided against her, had decided not to trust her.
After a minute or so, I interrupted her and said “Sorry, we make like two dollars an hour working on a farm.” That’s been my story, lately, when approached for money. It’s difficult for me sometimes, when people ask, because I see how hard Daniel works for so little. Yes, we have no bills, no living expenses, but still. He works so hard for such a small amount of monetary gain.
So we dismissed her.
We got in the car and started to drive off, yet I felt a deep, immediate conviction in my spirit. There was something about this woman, the more I thought about it, that had no deception in it. I couldn’t sense it when she was with us, because my training the last few years has been to put up a guard, quickly dismiss, and leave.
We quickly spoke it over, stopped our truck, and called her back. Daniel asked “Do you need gas money?” She sank a little where she was standing, clasped her hands, and said “Yes, yes.” He handed her a ten. Her eyes welled up, and she started telling us that she was getting paid on Monday, and she would give us her phone number and pay us back. We said “Don’t worry about it.”
Her demeanor was such relief, and she kept saying “Bless you both, thank you, God bless you.”
We watched her get in her car and drive off.
“God bless you.”
I thought about this situation for many days afterward. I have been trained by the media and from my own experience, not to trust strangers who ask for money. And yes, there were professional panhandlers in KCMO that had a sob story that was BS, who immediately used money given to them for nefarious purposes.
The thing is, after years of this, I wasn’t able to see true need when it stopped by me. I was so guarded, so distrustful, that I almost left this woman and her children in a bad situation. I became increasingly uncomfortable with my knee-jerk reaction to her needs.
Who are we to judge true need? Who are we to make that call?
Yes, there is deception. But can brushing people like that off bring anything but more deception? The Bible (and many other religious texts) commands us to be giving, because the Lord has blessed. And he has.
How many times have I denied blessing others, due to feeling uncomfortable or because I assume the worst of people?
I thought about several action steps I’d like to take, because of this situation.
- Keep some sort of gift card to a grocery store on me, maybe five or ten bucks. That way, if someone says they’re hungry, I can give them that. If they weren’t hungry and just wanted cash for something else, they’ll decline.
- If someone asks for money for a cup of coffee, if I’m with Daniel and feel safe, I’ll walk with them and get it. Engage with them. Ask their name. Tell them about ourselves.
- Whatever the person says they need, I want to do what I can do provide them with that item. In the future, we could have followed her to a gas station and filled her tank up. If they say they need a bus ticket, walk with them to the bus stop and buy it for them. (Again, keeping basic safety rules in place if you’re a single lady).
- Assume the best. Believe what they say. Show empathy, share. Bless people because you, too, have been blessed.
I think what was so shocking to me, was my immediate reaction to her. Distrust. Barriers. Assumption.
I want to trust, be open. I want to listen and believe.
” What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2). “