By Matthew Wong
A few weeks ago, a visitor came into our sanctuary after the Sunday services, and I noticed him talking to a few of the members in our congregations. By this time, most were finishing up with Coffee Hour and about ready to depart the church to continue on with the rest of their Sunday and start their week. I happened to greet this man, as I could tell that he was in need of something. Even before I spoke with him, in my mind, I was thinking how I could best serve his needs and already contemplating how I would respond to his request for money should he ask for some. As it turns out, he explicitly mentioned that he’s not asking for money, and he’s not the type of person to lie and say he needs money for food just to solicit money to spend elsewhere. His request for was to go to a local Chinatown store with him and purchase him lunch: two pieces of fried chicken for only $1.10 including tax. I sort of smiled, as I also have a fondness for fried chicken, especially having switched to a high-fat/high-protein diet. I agreed, and we walked to the corner store on Franklin and 8th.
On the way there, while dodging the sidewalk market vendors and shoppers, we talked a little bit, and asked him if he knew about CityTeam Ministries, an organization with which CCUMC has previously partnered. He said yes, and he knew exactly what times they passed out dinner, but for some reason he chose not to receive food there. He also mentioned that he was supposed to meet with another local pastor, but there may have been miscommunication, and the pastor did not show up at the time he thought they were supposed to be meeting. When I told him my name, he pleasingly said that I had a Bible name.
By the time we got to the restaurant, he asked if it was okay if he got four pieces of chicken, two pieces which he would save for dinner, which he alerted me would only be $2.20 after tax. I didn’t have the heart to “call” him on his bait-and-switch technique, but instead told him I’d buy six pieces, give him four, and that I’d eat the other two for myself, as I had not eaten anything for lunch yet. After that, he took his four pieces, left the store, and I ate my lunch on the walk back to church.
I have recently had mixed feelings about giving people money on the street when they ask me for it. It’s not quite clear to me which helps the person more in the long term: if I give them the small amount of money they are seeking, or if I refuse to give them anything. While it is commonly believed that people asking for money for food are really seeking money for alcohol or drugs, I know someone who stays near my workplace in Livermore that asks for money on a daily basis, hoping to earn $40 each day which pays for a hotel room for that night. He probably works 8 hours a day, 5 to 7 days a week, and earns and spends $1200 a month for his hotel room. It’s unclear to me if he’d be better off in the long term finding an alternate way to earn the money he needs for food and shelter.
As for the gentleman that visited our church a few weeks ago, I feel better granting a request to someone who is not trying to deceive me by lying about what they need the money for, and I also feel better that he has “shopped around” and knows the most economical place in town to purchase the meal of his choice. As an aside, I’m also grateful that he introduced me to a new place where I can purchase a low-carb budget lunch in Chinatown!
I don’t know the needs nor relationship with God that either of these men have. However, having humbled themselves enough to request help from others in the form of money or 50¢ pieces of chicken, it’s evident that these men most likely need positive change in their lives, which can only be helped by additional faith and love from God. We shall keep these men and other people in need in our community in our prayers.
“[F]or I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25 35-40