Or, have someone call you in the middle of the night because they’re stranded at the town bus/train station and they’d like you to come give them money to get home?
This is scary stuff. Sure, you (the church) wants to help someone in need, but few of these people are truly in need.
The stories usually go like this —
1. A dramatic tale of why they’re stranded with not even a dollar to their name.
2. Why they have to get home immediately (home is always conveniently about 50 miles away – enough to need money to get there, but not far enough to need 100s of dollars to get there).
3. Food doesn’t count, what they need is cash.
4. They always, always promise to pay you back.
You’re always between a rock and hard place here. You know 95% of them simply want money for alcohol – but how do you determine the 5% who really are stranded?
The evangelical churches in Racine established a food bank called Harvest Outreach. Each church took a different shift at the pantry to pack, distribute, manage the food. This was great, because if someone came by and said they needed money for food, we could send them to Harvest Outreach where they would receive food and also literature explaining their need for salvation.
Because our church was on the road to Milwaukee, we got a lot of people stopping by and this was a way to meet their needs.
Another thing Ken often would do – if the person said he needed gas, Ken would have the man/woman follow him to a gas station and then literally fill up the person’s tank and pay for the gas on the spot, rather than give the person money.
When we first enrolled at Moody as freshman, we were lectured NOT to give anyone money. If we truly wanted to help someone, (guys, not girls) were to lead him to a restaurant and buy him coffee. (Moody faculty knew they had lot of students fresh from the country in the city for the first time.)
I remember another man in Racine who would periodically show up at the church asking for money. After a while, Ken got to know him and he admitted one day that he lived by begging off the churches. He would just go down the list and then start over.
Pastors, churches and church staff members (who are at the church on weekdays) need to decide on a plan BEFORE someone comes to the church begging. That way everyone is on the same page. (Sometimes Ken did give money – but only $20.00 or so.)
I want to talk more about this – does anyone have any experiences?