This issue confronts us at the personal level almost daily. Beggars: should we give to them or not?
One orientation exercise for short-term mission teams who visit us is to have them present their arguments for and against giving to beggars. To assist with their debate preparation, I present a few issues to consider:
Who is the beggar tapping on your car window?
That’s Jesus tapping on your window. In Matthew 25 Jesus said, “What you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it for me.” Mother Teresa was very strong on this and said, “The poor person in front of you at that time is Jesus.” Can we ignore Jesus tapping on our window?
Who is the person in the car (i.e. you)?
We’re followers of Jesus who are trying to be Christ-like. So, as the saying goes, “What would Jesus do?”
Can we relate to beggars?
Most beggars look dirty, have matted hair and wear old, worn-out clothing. Some have limbs missing. Others have various sicknesses, both physical and mental. But beggars are people, made in God’s image. Like all human beings they thrive on relationship, not rejection. Why not try talking with them? Often their faces will light up into beautiful smiles. They have interesting (and terrible) stories to share. Get to know the regulars, build a friendship with them. As you bless them, you will be blessed.
Aren’t we all beggars in some way?
Beggars are people who require assistance to live; that makes me a beggar. As a mission worker, I ‘beg’ from the Baptist churches so I can live and work here. What’s the difference? Church history records a number of ‘missions’ in which the workers showed reliance on God by begging.
Isn’t the beggar working for others?
It’s true! The individual beggar may be part of an organised begging collective, who receive the day’s money, and pay the beggar a small commission. If this is true, so what? The beggar still needs to earn enough each day to pay the boss, and keep a bit to survive on. Isn’t that called business?
Is giving money the best way to help?
Some say we should not give money because this is short-term assistance that promotes long-term dependence. They argue that we need to work on long-term solutions that address the cause of poverty while empowering the poor to improve their lives. This is all true and is part of what I do here. But have you tried explaining all this to a beggar who’s tapping on your window? They’d prefer a simple coin. Wouldn’t you? There’s a time and place for long-term development assistance but it’s not possible while waiting at the traffic lights.
If we give to one beggar, won’t we be swamped by all the others?
“Swamped” is a bit of an exaggeration. Sure, sometimes three or four can suddenly appear but that’s hardly being swamped. The key is good planning before commencing your journey. Have some loose change handy so you can give to the beggars you can, and say sorry to the others. Beggars are very understanding. The economics are simple: If many people give a little, there will be sufficient for all. Mother Teresa said, “our help is like a drop in the ocean, but all the drops are needed to make the ocean.” Giving a few cents away on a regular basis costs us almost nothing but makes a huge difference to them.
Wouldn’t spiritual help be better?
In the story of feeding the 5000, after teaching the people about the kingdom of God and healing the sick, Jesus’ disciples wanted to send the hungry masses away. But Jesus said, “Give them something to eat!” There is a time and place for spiritual help, but right now, the hungry person in front of you needs money or food.
Is anybody watching how we respond to beggars?
At a language school I attended, I was told by Bangladeshi folk, “Westerners are hard hearted.” In a Muslim-majority country, if you’re a white skinned foreigner, the assumption is, you’re Christian. Our words and behaviour are being watched and judged by local people. Will we show love and compassion, or hard-heartedness? Will our Christian witness be enhanced or made worse? God is watching also. Perhaps as we show kindness to beggars, they and others may come to believe in our good news (John 13:34).
Do we give to beggars? Yes! It feels like God is watching our response and, for us, somehow feels like the ultimate test of our Christianity.
Do we support long-term church based community development? Yes! it’s my job.
– Julian, with his wife Claire and two children, has lived and worked in Bangladesh since March 2002. He helps the national church share God’s love with the poor through holistic mission and facilitating church-based community development.