Gas Stations and Beggars

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when he could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him”

“Because I am afraid that He would ask me the same question.”-Anonymous

                        ***

“Do you have any change? I ran out of gas and my kids and I are stranded,”

Startled, I backed up as the unfamiliar woman cornered me by my car as I filled it with gas.  It seemed like she had appeared out of nowhere and was now only inches from my face. 

“I’m so sorry, but I don’t have any money on me,” I explained, “Just my credit card.”

Sheepishly, she turned, and I started to breathe again when I realized she wasn’t going to rob me. She walked over to her car and my eyes followed her. She climbed in the front seat of a truck and I strained to see if there were kids in the vehicle with her. I didn’t see any, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue with her to cough up the kids before I gave her assistance.

I finished up at the pump and then started to frantically dig through my messy car to see if there were any quarters in the center console I could find for her.

My back was turned to the outside as I frantically looked for the coins, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.  The hair on my neck rose as whipped around again.

In front of me stood a young blonde man, disheveled and in tattered clothes.  With a sad smile he asked me, “Do you have any money? I am trying to get to the beach.”

I shook my head no and climbed in my car and quickly shut the door.  Overwhelmed and feeling slightly hounded by all of the desperation, I started the car and drove off feeling conflicted and very much like Peter before the rooster crowed.  I suspiciously looked around for a third beggar.

“Ok God, I see them,” I muttered. “I see your people.”

I knew what God was up to. I had recently prayed a scary prayer.  Not the patience prayer (I am not that dumb) but the Bob Peirce prayer (the founder of World Vision). 

I had prayed with determined trepidation (like the great wuss I am) for my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

And now He was doing it.

Only the night before, I had shared with my husband how I felt God was stirring up in me compassion for the poor and needy.  I felt a sadness and burden for the oppressed that was rather foreign to my crusty and self-absorbed heart.  Every day, disturbing stories were coming across my path that brought me to my knees and a fire of righteous anger was beginning to slowly build inside my belly.

My husband asked me what my part was in this revelation.  I said there were two things.  I felt a tangible distance, almost desensitization from the magnitude of suffering in the world and secondly, I sensed God wanted me to write about it. 

The gas station, by the way, was in Anaheim, not some seedy part of Los Angeles or Santa Ana. Lately, I’ve been approached by beggars in the parking lot of Target in Mission Viejo, and repeatedly by a mother toting a little boy inside the Starbucks in Ladera Ranch.

The tentacles of poverty are spreading closer and closer to the insulated bubble communities we’ve built to keep it out. 

And suddenly, I can’t compartmentalize it all anymore; this mental box of poverty I’ve created that includes mission trips to Mexico and the sad little faces of children in Africa.  It’s not the separate place I make it out to be so I can sleep better at night.  Poverty is all around us and it’s too blatant for me to put it back on the shelf or cross off on a list of benevolent activities I do on a quarterly basis.

Honestly, poverty scares me. More than anything I think it’s the desperation.  Somehow, I’ve equated the poor with violence, and while they often do go together, I know they aren’t the same. Poverty seems to be more about limited options than aggression. But they get mixed up when I avoid the issue altogether.

I am afraid of changing and drawing close, but I am more afraid of doing nothing now that my eyes have been opened.

I wish I had some money with me in the car the other day. Although, reflecting on it later, it’s not like I couldn’t have bought the woman gas with my credit card.  My fear at times is paralyzing.

But next time, well…next time, I’ll be ready for the little tap on the shoulder.  In fact, I’ll be expecting it.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Face of Jihad

Children in Khorixas, Namibia

Image via Wikipedia

About ten years ago at a Christian rock concert, I was introduced to the humanitarian group called “World Vision” and felt compelled to be a part of their mission.  World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families and communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.  Basically, my involvement would be in the sponsorship of a child in need through monthly giving.  My children were very small at the time, but I envisioned picking a child that they could connect with and learn about giving and social awareness.  The little boy I chose had the same name as our family and “Adam” became a subtle reminder to us, all over the years, that in the smallest of ways we were all a part of the same global community of faith.  We received pictures from him and letters updating us on his growth and education.  We laughed when he sent us a picture of his new goat and my little ones drew him pictures of our family.  Ultimately, Adam became a goat herder and grew up and out of the program. But Adam had touched our lives in more ways than he would ever know. 

When I suddenly became a single mother, and struggled financially to provide for my children, I was challenged to believe that God would provide for not only us but Adam as well.  Sometimes I would look at my stack of bills and then at his picture and laugh.  He never knew how many times I almost gave up on him in my own desperation. I learned much about sacrificial giving through a little boy from Ethiopia and my children learned about staying the course and having a double fisted faith in God’s promise to take care our basic needs. 

Recently, World Vision sent us a picture and bio of a new child to replace Adam.  Ironically, once again we are being challenged by our World Vision child. My son, now twelve, and my daughter, now nine, were excited to open up the package and see who God had chosen for us.  My husband was now also part of our little group and as we tore into the envelope and read his name we were shocked to learn that he was called “Jihad.” 

Our first reaction was one of confusion.  World Vision is supposed to be a Christian organization and clearly this was a Muslim child as indicated by his papers.  This raised many questions in our home about what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in the face of our enemies.  This child may never know he has been named after one “striving in the way of Allah,” but his needs for food and clothing are probably all too real.  Tim and I considered asking for a different child, but finally decided to continue supporting him despite our conflicting feelings. 

While I don’t know if I am supporting a child that may someday fight against my own children or all that I believe in, I do want to be open to what God is doing in my life.  Jihad’s picture is penned up on my desk at work beside my children and husband.  He is slowly growing on me, though I do feel more of a sense of obedience than any natural affection. Once a month as I write out his check, I look at him and laugh and can only wonder what the Lord is doing in my heart through this boy.

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