I have struggled with how to handle "beggars" for years. I remember when I was a youth minister in Aberdeen our youth group used to help out at a local community center where we distributed clothing and food. We used some sort of voucher system to keep the same people from always coming in to get stuff and it was irritating when they were obvious playing the system.
A few years later I was Associate Pastor at Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport. When you're church name begins with the letter "B", and you live in a Casino town then you end up pretty high on the list of scammers going through the phone book.
A Deacon friend in Aberdeen taught me a valuable lesson way back then. I remember Lynn saying that he'd rather err on the side of giving.
I found this quote online attributed to the great CS Lewis: "It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been 'had for a sucker' by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need."
I've probably struggled more with giving to strangers since the World Race back in 2007. It became apparent to me on several occasions overseas that many of the "beggars" are "slaves". In Thailand and Cambodia beautiful children sold trinkets and my first thought was that they (and their family) were being industrious but then you find out they were not going to school and were in fact being "pimped". Organized crime uses old grandmothers and little children, broken old soldiers and deformed kids. Watch the bad guy burn-out the kids eyes in Slumdog Millionaire in order to make him a more effective revenue producer.
I don't want to contribute to or perpetuate that.
But there's this one kid. I met her probably in February. I gave her some money but felt bad about it because I just don't like giving money to beggars. It was colder than ice that day and I didn't see a store nearby to buy her anything so I handed her a couple dollars. After that I resolved that I would carry some juice or something with me (I almost always carry a small backpack) and I would give her juice or food in the future.
Today I got caught short. I didn't have anything with me. And I didn't give her money. And I felt bad. I feel like- it's bad enough that I'm perceived as a rich American...I don't want to be perceived as a rich, greedy, stingy, mean-spirited American...a Missionary to boot!
Even if this kid is being effectively pimped-out by her mother or worse, I want her to light up when she sees me walking down the street and not just because I'm a great guy with a lot of money and a generous spirit. I may not be able to have a long conversation with her but I can remind her each time that Jesus loves her. But I can't do that if I ignore her and walk away.
So. Resolved. From now on when she approaches me I will not leave her empty handed. I will still try to always have a juice or something with me to give her but if not I will at least give her something. I will err on the side of giving. I will not be a rich, greedy, stingy American Missionary.