So anyone who has ever walked outside their home may have come across a beggar.
And in some places, like here in Oregon, the beggars have learned that perching themselves at freeway exits or near where alot of cars have to stop and then start can be a good place to beg, because people give money. And so it is not uncommon to see them, with their signs. Sometimes clever, sometimes not so much.
Often times, unlike this gentleman, they don’t offer to work, they just want some dough. One time I told them that I gave money to the Portland Rescue Mission to eat supper and he told me it was too dirty there. I could see he was sleeping under a bridge. Huh.
So on a particular day in perhaps October last, my daughter and I were coming home from a mega mall which we visited to purchase some specific thing that was available no other place, because I am not fond of the mega mall. And as we exited the freeway, my 6 year old daughter, who I want to somehow to teach how to be more gentle, more generous and more virtuous saw this man. He actually looked more like this:
Only instead of smiling he had a sad, dour face, looking like he was hungry or sad, and my 6 year old’s hear was touched. She asks me:
Why is that man sad?
He needs some food or money or a job or something.
Can I give him some?
Sure give him your trail mix bar.
Can I give him my money?
Pause. Me thinking because even though as a Christian I am to give to all who ask, but still “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves,” Matthew 10:16 is flashing across my brain as well as I try to make a left hand turn to go under the 5. I have heard these beggars organize themselves at times, working shifts, making a lot of money and making it unnecessary to work. And my little girl works for her money.
She happens to have a few coins that she often brings when she goes shopping and hands it to him. And at the last moment, she hands him a camcorder that her grandad gave us. DOH! No! and then Um, OK! I almost tried to grab the camcorder back, but then let it rest in his hands, as I feel an understanding of the givingness that my daughter is in the middle of, and all the things happening at once. I know she cannot see that he might be deceptive, I just want to teach her to give. To give freely and sacrificially and to not value material possessions above the things that matter more, people… relationships.
He acts a little stunned and thanks Addy. And maybe he realized that the camcorder was not a high ticket item, but he was nice back to the child that gave to him.
As we managed to find a space to pull out, I wondered. Did I do the right thing?
Today, this incident came to mind, 6 months or more after it happened. In reading a book recently about the state of women’s rights in developing countries, the authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Half the Sky) asserted that the United Nations and Western Nations should hold African hospitals accountable for the the quality of care delivered to people, and in this case in particular, women.
At this point I smirked.
Their big aim was to eliminate unfairness in the treatment of poor women who could not pay as opposed to richer women. Who could disagree with that? But their proposal of how to do it… not so sure if I am gonna jump on that train.
A connection was also made to another book and set of classes that I attended based around a book called “When Helping Hurts” . This book discusses the problems that are caused when richer nations come in and solve the problems of poorer nations, particularly nations with colonial pasts and even before that tribal pasts. In Africa, there has developed a problem that African nationals come to not only rely on but expect that people with lighter skin are often there to provide the solution.
Metaphors about teaching a person to swim versus helping him across a river, and one person telling all what the answers were vs. a collaborative community/village based approach to helping aided understanding of why throwing money at problems of poverty can deepen a sense of helplessness. I had also heard about another book on NPR by an author from Africa who said the same thing, that aid dollars often times eliminated markets that could feed families. And of course Muhammad Yunus who won the Peace Prize for microloans in poorer countries. Loans that empowered families to sustain their own small businesses that could put food on the table.
And a quote I heard once, the response of a guy to a beggar asking for a coin “What you gonna do with a quarter? Start a business?” The whole idea of what “AID” is for people outside the US and Western nations rolled around in my head.
But probably only because of the newscast about the famine in East Africa. The young African man reporting talked about women, children and the elderly being the hardest hit, about a boy he met just that morning in a clinic whose growth was stunted because for so many years he had lived with hunger. And of course I thought about the kids and families I had worked with from the African community in Portland. Emergency situations, there seems only one compassionate response.
So there is no tidy closure for these thoughts rolling around in my head. The When Helping Hurts book talks about the need for empowering countries to find their own solutions to become independent nations, sort of like kids. At some point the young man or woman has to solve their own problems. It is a hard place as a parent to see them struggle, and the need to nurture is powerful, natural but what does healthy nurturing look like? In posing that question I already know the answer: there is no one single answer.
Your thoughts? Would love to hear them…