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A Lesson in Giving to the Homeless
Learning the blessedness of giving
I raised four boys. I brought them up in the church, read the Bible to them, taught them in the ways of the Lord, and yet they still seemed to be indifferent to the plight of those less fortunate than them. But a day came when God provided an opportunity for them to see destitution on the street and to respond in mercy. I am proud to say they came through with flying colors. But lest I grow a big head, it was not my efforts that made them respond. It was God working in their hearts.
An opportunity to give is born
One Saturday morning in the late 1980s, our family drove down to San Diego from Anaheim to go to a bicycle expo. My husband and boys were big on biking. We wandered around for a few hours looking at hundreds of new high tech bicycles, and bicycle products. By noon we were all starving. Rather than pay high prices there at the food vendors we decided to trek the few blocks to the local McDonald's.
On our way we had to pass through a little city square. Basically it was just a tiny little park with green grass, a few nice trees, and a bench here and there. As we traipsed through the little park we came upon a homeless man. Though his clothes were dirty and he had obviously slept there on the park bench, he had a beaming, radiant smile. He held out a cup or some sort of container and asked for a quarter for a cup of coffee. We threw in a little change and he was so grateful.
We arrived at McDonald's and orders were placed. We found our way to a table with trays piled high with Big Macs, Big 'n Tasty's, Quarter Pounders, x-tra large fries, apple pies, coffee, and soft drinks. While we were eating the boys began to talk about the homeless man begging for quarters. The conversation went something like this:
Kenny (age 13): That homeless guy was really nice.
Troy (age 11): Ya, and he was so thankful even when we only gave him a little change.
Scott (age 6): Maybe we should give him a hamburger.
Kenny: Why don't we get him something Mom?
Me: Okay, what should we get him?
Kenny: It should be a big burger. Big Mac or Quarter Pounder.
Troy: And we should get him a large coffee.
My husband and I were so impressed with their attitude of heart. We all pitched in some change and purchased the burger and coffee. Since we weren't quite done eating, we took the man's order over to the table and finished our meal. Our oldest son Kenny said "Hey, why don't we give him some money too. He'll need something for dinner." So, the boys once again dug into their meager wallets and pooled their spending money. It came to four dollars and some change. They tucked it in to the Styrofoam hamburger container on top of the burger. They also picked up sugar, creamer, and ketchup, just to have all the bases covered.
As we were getting ready to leave there was a disturbance over at the counter. A grizzled homeless man was waving his arms and giving the manager a piece of his mind. He claimed his right to beg for money or food from the other customers, and demanded to know where was McDonald' generous spirit anyway? He looked about to get violent. Customers were looking angry and irritated and began to leave. Concerned for safety, we followed suit. as it With great excitement we headed for the door, the boys eager to bear their gift to their homeless friend in the park.
Giving the gift
The homeless man waved and thanked us again for the change we gave him earlier. Kenny, the self-appointed leader, handed the man the white bag with the golden arches on it and told him we bought him some lunch. The man proceeded to throw his arms around Kenny and hug him like he was his long lost son. At age 13 he was a bit uncomfortable with a public display of affection, but at the same time he was grinning from ear to ear. The man could not stop saying "Oh thank you, son, God bless you boys, God bless you. Glory to the Lord. Thank you Jesus." Then he reached out and shook the hands of our other two sons. My husband and I stood back out of the way. This was their gift to the man, not ours.
The boys, knowing there was more than a hamburger in the container, encouraged the man to open it up and dig in. The man was more than happy to obey. I sensed it was more for their pleasure than his. The man sat on the bench and opened the lid to the burger. The dollar bills kind of spilled out. "Oh my, praise the Lord, God bless you boys, God bless you. Oh thank you, God bless you."
Not a minute later the other homeless man who was raising a ruckus in the restaurant came up. When he approached he immediately said in a nasty, bitter voice, "Hey, how come you get the food and money? Where's mine?" His whole attitude was one of entitlement and ingratitude. The boys had no more money and became rather flustered as to what to do. The first homeless man said to him, "Oh George, leave them be. I'll buy you a burger with the money." The boys looked upset that the nasty man was going to get a meal out of the nice man's money. He was so mean and demanding. Why couldn't he ask nicely?
We headed back to the bicycle expo with the grateful man shouting and waving goodbye and God bless you and thank you. The nasty man was muttering "Hurry up John, I'm hungry."
On the way home I asked the boys how they felt about the grateful man buying the nasty man a meal with the money. They hemmed and hawed knowing that even nasty homeless men need to eat. But as they talked about it they realized that the grateful man was passing on the love and generosity they had showed him, and that perhaps someday the nasty man would remember their generosity, and the generosity and friendship of the grateful man.
When we got home that night I pulled out the Bible and read about all the kindnesses that Jesus extended to the poor and infirm. Throughout the rest of the week we looked at compassion and giving in stories like the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, and the blind beggar that Jesus healed.
The important thing they recognized was that they give back to others what the Lord has given them, no strings attached. They gave because they cared, not to be appreciated.
What do you teach your kids about the homeless?
How we treat people who are homeless
How we treat homeless people, and other people who struggle in life socio-economically, or with perhaps disabilities, sends a message to our children. How often do you say, or hear others say, "Stay away from them, they're dangerous."
"Don't give them money, they'll spend it on drugs or alcohol."
"They just need to get a job. They are lazy."
"They're crazy (psycho, wacko, deranged)."
And lets face it, many do spend the money on drugs and alcohol. There are some who could work and don't or won't. There are many homeless struggling with mental illness. However, there are many who have just fallen on hard times. Many of those with a mental illness have fallen through the cracks in the system. There are a million different stories out there. Comments such as the one's above tell our children that people who are homeless are not of any value, that they are all bad, and we should not get involved.
People who are homeless are God's creation and he values them as much as anyone else. There are many places, missions and such, that try to help them. There are many ministries out there with feeding programs. When you serve this way, you get to hear their stories, see their struggles, and serving them is a gift. Whether they are there because of bad choices or just hard times, pray for them, witness to them, and love them. Your heart will be changed, and God may use you to make a difference in their lives, perhaps they may come to Christ.
Related Hubs by Lambservant
- Tales of Feeding and Loving the Homeless on the Streets of Seattle: Part 1
A sandwich ministry to the men and women living on the streets of Seattle has been a joy, but also heartbeaking and a true reality check.
- Tales of Feeding and Loving the Homeless on the Streets of Seattle: Part 2
Like most big cities, Seattle has a large population of men and women with nowhere to call home. This is the 2nd part of my story of feeding the homeless with our little band, The Sandwich Ministry.
- Love in Action: tangible ways to help the hurting
Love is more than a feeling of strong affection. Love is an action word. Love is only love when it is shown. Here are some practical ways to love those who are hurting.
- True and Genuine Religion
What is pure and genuine religion? James give us the answer.
What does the Bible say?
All throughout the Bible we see God's special care and encouragement for us to care for the poor. Here are some Scriptures to consider:
When the poor and rich come to church - James 2:1-12
"For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?"
Open your hand to the needy - Deut. 15:7-11
‘If there is among you a poor man of your brethren within the gates of your land which the Lord gave you, you shall not harden your hearts, nor shut your hand from to the poor brother. But you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land."
Protect and advocate for the poor - Psalm 82:3-4
"...uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute."
Helping the poor honors the Lord - Prov.14:31
"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him."
Feeding the poor, feeding Jesus - Matt. 25:37:40
"I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"
Invite the poor and infirm - Luke 14:12-14
"Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
Love God and love your neighbor - Matt. 22:37-39
"Equally important, love your neighbor as yourself."
Who is my neighbor?: The story of the good Samaritan - Luke 10:30-37
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Then Jesus said, 'Yes, now go and do the same.'”
Pure and undefiled religion - James 1:27
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
The poor, infirm, the underdog, the defenseless, the orphans and widows - all are precious to Jesus and he doesn't judge them. He helped them because he loved them. He calls us to do the same. To not do so dishonors and displeases him. We love God by loving others. Consider it a privilege.
© 2011 Lori Colbo