Last week as I walked out of the grocery store toward my car, I was approached by man in a wheelchair. Both of his legs appeared to be amputated just below the knees. He was unkempt and obviously did not have access to good hygiene. But, he wore a bright smile and looked me in the eye as he said, “Ma’am, could you spare 60 cents? That’s all I need to have enough for bus fare.” I try to be to be aware of safety in these sorts of situations, so I looked around to see if I could spot anyone who might be lurking nearby. Not seeing anyone, I opened my purse, handed him a dollar and said, “I’d be happy to help you. God bless you, sir.” As I was driving away I saw him approaching another person headed to their car. I shook my head and thought, “I’m a sucker.” Then, I paused, smiled and said out loud, “Maybe so, but that’s okay. “ I prayed for him as I drove home.
Thank you, Buddy and Jean Albright.
When I graduated from college, I took a job teaching first grade in Guadalajara, Mexico at a small private school. My roommates were two other young American women who were both serving two year stints teaching at the school. It was a wonderful, adventurous year.
About the time I was arriving and getting settled, we were introduced to our neighbors who were also just moving in. Buddy and Jean were probably in their early 50’s and had spent 25 years in Malawi (Africa) with the International Mission Board. Their children were grown and they began to ask the Lord what He had for them in the next season of life. They heard his clear direction to move to a new mission field: Mexico. We loved them and frequented their house in the evenings for popcorn and Milo (a malt flavored mix added to warm milk, very similar to hot chocolate.) One Saturday evening we told them the following story.
We had answered a knock on our metal door that morning to find the most adorable little boy standing there. He looked to be about six years old and was undoubtedly dressed as nicely as he could manage in a dingy, collared shirt that was tucked neatly into well-worn jeans. His shoes looked like they were about to come apart at the seams. His hair was combed very precisely and he had the biggest brown eyes and a shy smile. He was going house to house begging in our neighborhood. We knew his mother had probably dressed him early that morning, given him a bag and sent him on the bus to come across town, all by himself, for this day’s work. We were smitten. We brought him upstairs, sat him on a kitchen stool and put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his hand. Then, we went to work filling his bag with sugar, beans and flour. When he had all he could carry, we gave him a few additional pesos and sent him on his way. As we relayed the story to the Albrights, I laughed and said, “I hope we didn’t just get duped. Maybe he’s taking advantage of foreigners. He’ll probably be back next Saturday and bring all his friends.” We laughed about how, if it was a scam, it was a good one, and they definitely sent the right little boy.
Buddy and Jean did not laugh. Instead, Buddy quietly said, “I would rather give to someone and find out later that I got “taken,” than not give and find out later that they really were in need.”
I was stung.
The truth was the odds were low that it was a scam. Our joking revealed an underlying self-protection and cynicism. How badly we hate to be made fools of. Buddy’s words exposed my wretchedness. Bags of beans and sugar don’t make up for a cynical, self-protective spirit.
Matthew chapter 5 gives us a number of admonitions that seem absolutely foolish:
- If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also (v. 39)
- If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (v. 40)
- Love your enemy (v.44)
- Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (v.42)
- And of course the gospel itself is foolish. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
I never encounter a beggar that I don’t think of Buddy’s words. I don’t always give to someone who asks, but I usually do. I do try to always be kind and pray for them. I can’t know what their true needs are. One thing I do know: If a person with no legs is in the parking lot asking for 60 cents, then his needs -- spiritual and physical and emotional -- are likely much greater than bus fare. I will never miss that dollar. And I never want to miss an opportunity to keep my heart flung wide open to others. Even in small ways. Even at the risk of being a fool.