By Tony Marciano
I’m often asked, “Should I give money to someone who is panhandling?” No one wants another person to suffer. As a Christ follower, am I not called to feed, shelter and clothe my fellow man or woman?
This question came up in the community group I attended. One of the members said, “When I give money to someone, it’s between them and God” to which I replied, “It’s between them and you.” I did not win friends or influence people that day with my response.
During a Charlotte Rescue Mission chapel service, I challenged the men to take hold of all God called them to become. I watched one man in particular get teary-eyed. I was hoping he said “Yes God” with his heart.
But the shame in his soul reared its ugly head, convincing him that God did not have great and wonderful plans for his life. Sometime later, he walked out the doors of the mission before completing the program.
I lost track of him until the day I was heading to the Charlotte Rotary Club. As I came to the light by the ramp to I-277, I recognized him. He had a sign that said, “Hungry, will work for food.” I rolled down my window. I didn’t give him any money. I asked when he was going to return to the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The light turned green and I had to go.
Each Tuesday I checked to see if he was there. A few weeks later, he was at the same spot, holding the same sign, panhandling for money. Again, I rolled down my window and asked him when he was going to return to the mission. Realizing I wasn’t going to give him any money, he never made eye contact with me. I told him we loved him and wanted him back.
This went on for several Tuesdays. Each week, I rolled down my window. He learned to ignore me. I prayed that God would grab his heart.
Then I didn’t see him anymore. I was concerned. Was he dead? The nature of addiction is that it is fatal. You will die from complications of addiction.
Sometime later I was entering our lobby and saw him sitting in one of our chairs. I asked him if he was coming into the program and he said, “Yes.” I was so very proud of him for putting aside his ego to seek the help he desperately needed.
I’d watch him in chapel. I asked God to grab his attention and do a work of grace in his heart and in his life.
One day we ran into one another and engaged in conversation. I asked him how long he had been at the mission. He said he’d been clean and sober for 30 days.
For too many years I’ve asked the residents of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, “How many of you can wake up stone broke at 8:30 a.m. and have enough money for your drug habit for the day in 90 minutes?” 85% of the men will raise their hands.
When you see someone panhandling, ask yourself this question, “What do I want to see happen in the life of the individual who is panhandling? Do I want to feed them or shelter them? Or, do I want to help them achieve their God-given potential?” Sometimes in saying “No,” you create an environment causing the person to want to change. People change when the pain of whatever is greater than the pleasure.
Saying “No” may be the most loving act you do.
I’ll be back soon . Until then, live well my friend.
The Rev. Tony Marciano is the president/CEO of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. Visit www.charlotterescuemission.org for details.