It’s story time with Sam.
Last Sunday, I had an interesting encounter with a homeless woman. Her name was Joanne, and she hustled me hard.
Let me set the scene. I don’t know about you guys but, when I am feeling a bit “bleh,” sometimes it just takes a little bit of coffee to get the “spiritual juices” flowing. So Sunday evening before church, I decided to make a quick coffee run at one of the petrol stations in town. I put my car in park, and before I could even unbuckle my seatbelt, there was a woman standing next to my door. For those of you who have never traveled to the Western Cape of South Africa, this is happens all the time. There are homeless people everywhere, and it’s honestly one of the most heart breaking things you’ll see.
This lady begins to approach me, asking for money in Afrikaans. Immediately I told her, “no ma’am, I’m sorry but I can’t give you money.” (I have a policy that unless the Lord specifically asks me to give someone cash, I won’t. Mostly because that money is usually spent on drugs and alcohol which is what got the person into this difficult situation in the first place. It may sound harsh, but the pattern is real.) So, I went inside the shop, got my coffee, and walked back to my car.
The lady was waiting for me, and wouldn’t let me leave the parking lot without trying to convince me one last time to help her out. I prayed, “Lord, I really don’t know what you want me to do right now.”
I asked her if she spoke English, because the rapid and angry yelling in Afrikaans just wasn’t working for me, and unfortunately, she didn’t. However, as I was unlocking my car door, I managed to understand enough of her blitsvinnig Afrikaans to realize that she had no money, she was trying to feed her daughters who were at home with her sister, and she was really hungry and just wanted food. Then the Lord said, “Sam, go buy her food.” That’s when I flippantly reminded the Omniscient God of the Universe that, “I’m living off of donation money, the cash in my wallet was supposed to be for my TITHE, and I am already running late for church.” (Priorities. Ha.)
Anyways, I decided to do it God’s way (this time). I proceeded to leave my coffee in the car, and I went back inside the store with the woman who’s name I finally discovered was Joanne. She asked if she could pick out a loaf of bread. “Cool.” Then she asked if she could buy a box of chicken legs. “Sure.” Then with a wry smile on her face she asked if she could get a big package of potato chips to bring to her daughters. “You can get a small bag Joanne, I’m not Daddy Warbucks over here. Let’s not get crazy.”
I paid. We left.
I asked her if she needed a lift, and she said no because she was going to stay to beg for more money to bring home for her daughters before heading back to Cloetesville. I said okay, wished her well, and got back into my car. Then I watched her. She took the food and walked around the corner. She met up with a man who had been sitting alongside the curb, he unzipped his backpack and took the food from her, and then stuffed it inside his bag. Who was this guy? Her pimp? Her baby daddy? Her brother? Her friend? Was he even going to share the food with her? I honestly didn’t know, but I realized that the food I had bought for Joanne to bring home to her daughters was now being given to this guy. The guy she conveniently forgot to mention. The guy who was obviously taking advantage of the fact that Joanne was a woman (because he knew that she would probably get more money and food than he would from begging at petrol stations). The guy who was spending his time sitting on his lazy bum watching this whole encounter take place.
I was angry. I felt hustled. I wanted to walk over there and take the bread right out of that guy’s backpack and smack him across the face with it. But I didn’t. But I wanted to…
I was roughly 60 rand in the hole, I was running late for church, I was manipulated by a homeless lady, and worst of all—my coffee was getting cold.
But before I could even drive out of the parking lot, the Lord began to address the angry thoughts that were running through my head, and He reminded me of some hard, humbling truths.
“Sam, I have called you to be My hands and feet. I have called you to feed and clothe the homeless, the orphaned, the needy, and the sick. I have called you to love those who are difficult to love. All of them. I never promised that you would receive praise, gratitude, or rewards for those things. I never asked you to give based on what you would receive in return. I have shown you what to do by My own example, so follow Me. Since when was My love ever conditional or earned? Give generously and cheerfully. Be merciful and gracious. Joanne is my priority. I know her struggles and her needs, and I will provide for her just like I have provided for you. I love her. Do the same, and let Me take care of the rest.”
Augh. My heart was so ridden with filth, and the Lord exposed me. Lovingly, He exposed my selfishness, my critical attitude, and the judgement in my heart. He exposed my insecurity of being perceived as a fool, and He exposed my fear of not having enough money for myself. I didn’t trust God in that moment. It shouldn’t have mattered what happened to the food I purchased for Joanne because the Lord only asked me to be obedient to His prompting to buy it for her. The rest was always in His hands.
Joanne didn’t owe me anything. She didn’t owe me gratitude or praise. She didn’t even owe me the truth. My giving shouldn’t have been dependent on anything except the command of Christ to give. Jesus tells me to love my enemies, my friends, and everyone in between. He commands me to bless those that persecute me, to serve one another radically, and to give generously. His only condition: It should all be done freely—without expectation, limit, or constraint.
That day, I learned a hard and important lesson.