The Risk of Kindness

I heard about a man who has a special place in his heart for beggars. He once asked a beggar on the street his name. The reply of the beggar was: “Name? I don’t have a name.” When I heard that, I was utterly astonished. A human being without a name? I’ve never heard nor imagined such a situation. Most probably he was born on the streets and was handed off to someone to use as a begging “tool.” Beyond that he had no value as a person.

When we see a person begging on the streets, our reactions may vary. We are unsure if we want to take the “risk” of talking to them.  Even if we have been kind to them in the past, our response may depend on the emotional situation we are in. Most people ignore them and hope they would go away. But as we ignore them we feel a sense of guilt and uneasiness.

As we look at them we realize that many are physically fit and capable of holding a job that would sustain them and their families. Surely someone could give them a job and help them to get on their feet. But of course that someone cannot be me. I’m just too busy. Maybe someone else.

Some have deformed limbs and other shocking deformities. We have heard stories about those who intentionally “deform” or damage the limbs of small children to make them more “marketable.” That is hard to imagine and certainly hard to believe. Certain situations and utter hopelessness can drive people to do the unthinkable. But who knows?

When I was a college student, I used one of my vacations to try to personally understand the plight of these people. I spent a month and lived in a “rescue mission” that reached out to the homeless. It was a tremendous risk for me as I became one of “them.”  Living with them as one of them brought a new sense of awareness in me. These were all real people with real life situations as you and I. But life just got to be too much for them. They did not have any hope that things could get better. Debts, job loss, death of a major wage earner, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other debilitating situations just drove them to the streets. As I interacted with them as their “equal,” their hearts really opened up and I was able to see them as a real person just like me.

A clear picture of street people and a clear analysis has been given by Roger S. Greenaway in the book Cities: Missions’ New Frontier. He gives a clear analysis and suggestions for reaching out to homeless and street people. After reading that chapter or other such material, think about what you can do. What about your family or the church? What steps can you take?

Maybe you can begin by treating them kindly. Take that risk of kindness.  Ask their name. That interaction with them will really help to change our minds as well. Then certainly ask if you can pray for them – but whatever you do, make sure to reach into your pocket as well. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful. God has a special place in his heart for the poor.

What kind of experiences have you had in dealing with such people?

Leave your comments here.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) Creative Commons

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