On the way home from shopping, Mr. H. and I passed a rather young-looking man standing beside the road holding a sign that read: “Need help. Please help feed my children. God Bless you!”
It bothered me that not even one car stopped. It was as if the man were invisible. Even so, as each car passed, he waved and smiled. It touched my heart. I smiled back. However, I had left the house, as I often do, without cash. I had my checkbook and credit card but regretted not being able to stop and give the man a little something.
Later, when I told a member of my family how much it bothered me, he said brusquely, “Don’t ever stop for anyone like that.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because there are ‘Help Wanted’ signs at every gas station and convenience store. If a person wants to earn money, he can. Truth is, what he probably wanted was money to buy beer or drugs.”
“What do you have in place of a heart?” I asked.
“I’m serious,” he said. “Besides, you could get yourself killed doing that.”
My lips O’d at the very thought.
But later, when I was alone, I thought about the man with the sign again, and remembered what my dad used to say about beggars. It was common, when I was a child, for people to knock on our door and ask for food or money. My dad never turned anyone away empty-handed.
He said, “It doesn’t matter why a man does it, or what he does with the money you give him. That’s on his conscience. What matters is that you want to help him. Furthermore, God sees what’s in your heart and rewards you accordingly.”
My dad often quoted Hebrews 13:2. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
I have no doubt he would have stopped to give the man a few dollars. And despite the risks, that’s what I’ll do next time.
Even if I have to write a check.
Proverbs 14:31 says, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
I believe God has a special concern for the poor and wants those who have an abundance of material goods to be generous with those who are needy.
Because I couldn’t stop thinking about the man beside the road, one day, I discussed it with a few friends. One of them said, “I make it a practice to give to organizations instead of trusting individuals to be honest about their neediness.”
“Certainly, there are some first-rate charity organizations in existence, and it’s admirable to help others however you choose,” I said, “yet, I strongly believe we should get personally involved with helping those in need. My upbringing gives me a strong sense that my main focus should be on human beings, not organizations. I want to be like the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a man in need, not the Levite who crossed the road to avoid him.”
“You do know you can’t save the world, don’t you?” my friend said, laughingly.
“Of course I know that, but I also can’t avert my eyes when I see someone in need. We have to do what we can.”
I’m reminded of “The Starfish Story” by Loren Eiseley:
An old man was taking his daily walk along the beach one morning, when he spotted a young boy crouched by the water, scooping up something from the sand and throwing it into the sea.
The beach was normally empty at this time of day, and so the old man stopped to watch for a while.
He noticed that the boy kept on shuffling a little farther down the beach, then repeating this same action again and again — stopping, scooping, throwing, moving.
“What are you doing there, boy?” the old man asked, walking closer.
“I’m saving these starfish that are stranded,” replied the boy. “If they stay on the beach they’ll dry out and die, so I’m putting them back into the ocean so they can live.”
The old man was silent for a few seconds, and then said, “Young man, on this stretch of beach alone, there must be more than one hundred stranded starfish. Around the next corner, there must be at least one thousand more. This goes on for miles and miles and miles — I’ve done this walk every day for 10 years, and it’s always the same. There must be millions of stranded starfish! I hate to say it, but you’ll never make a difference.”
As he lobbed another starfish into the water, the boy replied, “Well, I just made a difference for that one.”