“Do I know you?” “What church do you go to?” “Maybe that’s where I know you from?” My friend responded saying she attended First Baptist and the conversation ensued in the aisle of a dollar store. The man then told her his car needed repair and asked her to buy him a certain belt for his car that he needed. It only cost $17.99.
These situations are uncomfortable for us. Random people in our communities reach out to us for money. Of course Christians who take their faith seriously genuinely care about people in need, so how do we make the best decisions in these situations? If we say no, we worry we might be putting our personal safety at risk. We also worry we might be contributing to an addiction. If my friend purchased a belt for this man he could easily return it and use the money for something else. How he will pay for his vehicle to be repaired if he cannot afford $17.99 for a belt? Or maybe, this isn’t really about a belt at all? How are we to trust what a stranger that we just met tells us? How do we avoid being scammed as scamming is all over the place in our society today? What’s the best thing to do in these situations? We all want to obey God by caring for people. What’s the best course of action? These situations require us to think fast on our feet as we don’t ever feel prepared for something like this.
Here are some principles I seem to operate from in these situations:
- I never give cash. I never give cash because I don’t want to be a part of enabling someone in an addiction. Many people who approach others for money struggle with substance abuse and I don’t believe it’s the best choice to hand cash. We cannot truly know what the situation is in just one encounter with someone.
- Listen with compassion. Jesus had compassion and we need to learn to be compassionate and less judgmental in these situations. Listen and find something they are sharing that you can apply in number 3 below.
- Offer to pray for this person right then and there. Most people appreciate a prayer and praying over someone in the moment they are reaching out for a need can open the door the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s life. Many people are brought to tears when I pray for them in the moment. Anyone reaching out for money has needs and generally will share them.
- Feed someone and share a conversation together. If the person indicates they need money for food, sometimes I offer to go to a nearby restaurant and share a meal with them over conversation where you have the opportunity to get more deeply involved. Many people have declined my offer. In that situation I know they’re not really hungry and they just want cash. I never offer food without building a relationship with that person. See # 6 for more on this.
- Assess needs and refer accordingly. I’m glad to assess the situation and refer someone to a local agency to help with their needs. These agencies deal with this all the time and have records of needs and can assess much better than I can in a cold turkey situation. We have a tremendous amount of organizations that meet many kinds of needs in our community. Know these organizations well and refer people as you have conversations and learn about needs.
- Offer transportation help to a local agency where they can get the help they need. As a woman I never do this if I’m alone. If I’m with someone I ask them if it would be ok to transport someone to an organization where they can get help and we proceed from there. I certainly am dependent on discernment for this one. If I’m feeling led to do this I do it. If not, I don’t.
My friend did not buy this man a belt and I’m glad she didn’t. The way he approached her asking personal questions trying to make a connection probably indicates he has done this many times before. Asking for cash is an art form and a craft that can be perfected. Genuinely help people, but let’s not get scammed into contributing to someone’s addiction. When we’re able to engage someone we cannot stop there. Be on the lookout for part 2 and 3 about how to take these relationships into a positive healing community experience. Let’s not grow weary of doing good and press on together!