“Do you have some spare change?” said a grime-encrusted man before me. He held a sign which read, “Anything helps, God bless.”
The quarters and dimes in my pocket weighed heavily. If I said “no,” it would be a lie. But if I said “yes,” he’d expect me to give it to him. Why do homeless people have to ask such a manipulative question? Well, I suppose the change isn’t really spare. It’s not for him.
“No, sorry,” I replied, quickening my pace.
By the time I reached my car door, my conscience sagged in my gut like a cheap burrito. Jesus wanted me to stop and love that man. I just passed by Jesus in disguise. “I was homeless, and you did not give me spare change.”
But he would have just spent in on drugs, anyways.
I’m sure this has never happened to you. Never. Not once. Ever.
However, I’ve felt that inner struggle hundreds of times. My heart beats with compassion for the homeless people I come across, but I walk by. Over the past few years, I’ve prayed for and searched out what to do about this. And though I’m no expert, I’ve found that showing the compassion of Jesus involves having a prepared game plan more than handing over a few quarters. With that plan in place, I can actually stop with compassion. So, let me share with you some of my thoughts.
In my car, I carry goodie bags. They include:
- Food (cliff bar, Slim Jim, corn nuts, etc.)
- A bottle of water
- Black, athletic socks
- A Bible or tract
Socks? Yes, socks. They’re like homeless gold. When you live on the streets, you don’t have much money, so you don’t spend it on socks. You tend to cover your feet in worn out, festering rags. Hence, socks.
But what if I’m not near my car when I walk by the ubiquitous man with the sign? I carry $7 Subway gift cards in my wallet. I’ve chosen Subway because it’s about as omnipresent as Starbucks, and I want to give him at least a little nutrition.
How to give
When I stop, I talk to and listen to the person for a few minutes. I am not welfare: I care with the love of Christ. Any physical goods I give express that love. When I can, I end by laying my hand on their shoulder and praying for them in the name of Jesus. I’m still a student of love, but I’m getting better.
We also have to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, He may actually tell you to give somebody money (which I avoid in most cases). He may tell you to give somebody nothing but a smile. And He may tell you to share the gospel. He’s in charge, but having a game plan enables you to act in a default, godly manner, even when you don’t hear specific instructions.
A final note on the tract. I include a Bible or tract in my care package because I believe in the power of the Word of God to bring hope and change lives. However, I haven’t found a lot of good tracts out there, and a tract is very impersonal. Then, a few months ago, my friend Cliff gave me this great idea: write my own.
I’ve completed a first draft of a gospel presentation in the form of a personal letter. I include a couple details about my life in it as well as my name, phone number, email, and blog. I want them to know that this comes from me. I purposely didn’t quote a lot of Bible verses, because I want unchurched people to understand and appreciate it. I’m going to post it next week in the hopes that you also may use the idea. Or use the theological parts from mine; just add a couple bits from your own testimony and sign your name.
Until then, anybody else have good pointers for effectively loving homeless people?