Ok, before you deem me heartless, please hear me out.
Tuesday night I popped into Whole Foods on the way home from work to pick up a few last minute Thanksgiving necessities. My husband was feeling sick with a cold, so he waited in the car.
As I was perusing the lemon selection, a young Hispanic woman approached me, index card in hand, and asked me for money. The index card said something to the effect of “will you help me feed my kids?” and she was handing it to me to read, looking up at me with this sad puppy dog look in her eyes.
I am immediately torn. We are on a super tight budget. We give regularly to our church, and above and beyond to other ministries and needs. But here I am, accosted by a woman in the produce section, asking me for some cold green cash, and I hesitate.
I am supposed to be the big mission trip goer, non-profit worker, justice seeking advocate for the poor, yet I am a deer in headlights when this lady asks me for help.
A thousand thoughts ran through my mind, the first being our extremely tight budget. Second being, I feel like I am being scammed. Why did she single me out? Why did she come to Whole Foods, why not the Giant down the street?
I check my wallet and I had nothing. So I told her, “sorry… no cash.” Her response was, “well, you could just buy my groceries for me.”
Ok… That’s an idea… but what about my groceries?
I look around and the place is packed. I literally looked at her and asked her why she was asking me. Her response was indignant, “are you going to help me or not?”
Ok… I choose not. I don’t know why, but I told her I couldn’t help her.
Then she got ANGRY with me… “What, you’re not going to help me feed my children??”
I ignored her, and moved on to the limes. She moved on to a middle aged balding man who immediately reported her to the Whole Foods employee stocking the potatoes.
Augh! I am still miserable about this scenario. I considered calling my husband and asking him what I should do, but he was sick, and he’s really indecisive when he is sick, so I decided not to call him and moved on to the bread aisle with the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:32-46 ringing in my ears.
Not 30 seconds later, my cell phone rings. Its my husband calling me from the car.
“Hey babe, I just wanted to let you know that I am coming into the store with some lady who asked me to buy her some food.”
I’m all like… No babe she already approached me and I told her no because we can’t afford it. He said it couldn’t have been the same lady and that he was already on his way in. We said we would meet back at the car when we were finished and hung up.
I finished my shopping in utter remorse. I am such a bad Christian, a bad wife, a bad servant. If World Vision finds out they may fire me on the spot. Why didn’t I just buy the lady some food, and what are the chances that at the exact same moment I am approached by a beggar, my husband is too!! And he says yes without hesitation!
Well, I finished my shopping and moped back to the car where Brian was waiting. He bought the lady $100 worth of veggies and laundry detergent which we probably could’ve got for $50 at the Giant down the street. We compared notes and it definitely wasn’t the same woman, two different women, working the Whole Foods last Tuesday, one inside and one out in the parking lot.
Was it a scam? What it sincere? Who did the right thing? Will we ever know? Why am I laden with guilt? I swear, in my gut, I felt like the woman who approached me was pulling a fast one. I mean, who does that? Coming up to shoppers and begging while you are trying to take care of your own family in your own budget? I know how awful this sounds, but I really felt like she was scamming me.
All the while, my sweet, dear, humble, giving, Christian husband was already on his way in to buy groceries for the woman in the lot.
I said to Brian, “Thanks a lot babe, now we won’t be in the same place in heaven you do-gooder!”
Brian’s response was, “its ok babe, we are one flesh, one budget, you’ll be ok!”
Completely unbiblical, just a joke folks, but still…
What would you have done? What are your thoughts on this scenario?
Leave me a comment, chastise me for being a hypocrite, encourage me for humbly admitting my sins in a public forum, or high five me for listening to my gut.
13 Comments Add yours
I think you did the right thing and your husband did the right thing. You have to go with your gut on these things. Jesus also said that there will always be poor people. You have to do what is in your realm of influence.
It would be easier if we knew what each other’s needs were–but we don’t. You have good instincts and you should trust them–God gave you those two.
I had a lady that called me after Katrina–it was Thanksgiving after the storm and the Mayor of Atlanta’s office called me about a woman who needed help getting home for Thanksgiving. They couldn’t help because she had used her FEMA money to rent an apartment outside of the city of Atlanta.
I called and talked to her and she sounded nice. Said she had worked for Tulane that she had insurance on her car but not on her house. She needed $300 to get home for the holidays to check on her home.
I called my church and on my word we gave her $300. By the next week her cell phone was cut off and I called Tulane and she had not gone back to work there. I think I got scammed but I am not sure. She had lived on the money that FEMA gave and her children were enrolled in school–I checked on that. But I was never able to follow up after Thanksgiving and I never heard from her again.
You have to do what you think is right. I think you and Brian did.
Actually i did the same thing to a guy in Target on Saturday, afterwards I felt bad but I was wondering, why did he single me out and why was he going up to people in the target in the mall. I felt like it was a scam at the moment but wondered…would this be something Christ would have done?
You know for future reference. MBC does have a food pantry and a staff of the day person. If the person calls the main number or come to the church than we can give them a box of food/supplies ect….
I agree with Martha, you both did the right thing b/c you both followed what you sensed God leading you to do. I was scammed once similar to Martha’s story and for awhile it made me bitter and swore it wouldn’t happen again. Slowly God changed my heart and now I just always try my best to follow His leading in each situation. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. As with so many things in our walk, it comes down to our heart.
good thoughts… I am going to make sure that Ryan reads this so that he can respond because he deals with this every day. We did a mission trip to New City Fellowship (PCA) in Chattanooga and they are an inner city church that helps people everyday. We got lots of info and help from them. They hired a full-time deacon to help wth all of the people that come to them asking for money and help.
We live in downtown Brunswick and we are approached all of the time for cash or help. Just today a woman came to our door and asked for water. We helped her but i think that she is living in an empty house ( and we know that the owner foes not know that she is living there) and has not gotten the water turned on. We will help her today but we will encourage her to do what is best and get the water turned on so that she can survive without our daily help.
Also, i think that our responsibility is share Christ with them. To make sure that we are not just helping with their felt needs but with their need for a Savior. We often tell people that we give $ to people in our church and thru our church. We invite them to come with us and to hear the sermon. We offer to pick them up. We have had lots of people come once and we never see them again. And we have been scammed ALOT. But after a while you begin to learn their tricks. Usually if they get mad then they are scamming you. A person that is really hungry or has starving kids will not march away in anger.
Sorry i have lots of thoughts on this… and I am rambling!
I can appreciate your turmoil. We want to help, but we don’t want to be taken advantage of. That being said, when I read that the woman got mad at you, it immediately said “SCAM” to me. Either that, or poor tactics.
“Hey, if I can’t get people to give me their hard earned cash right away, I’ll belittle them in front of others, verbally accost them. Yeah, that’ll work!”
I just found your site, I look forward to reading more.
I TOTALLY hear you on this one! I walk by a woman daily who sits with a bucket and a sign that reads 3 kids to feed. Ironically she is sitting in front of 5 stores that could probably use a hired hand stocking shelves or taking out the garbage or something. This lady probably rakes in more money a year than I do and doesn’t have to pay taxes! Recommend providing people with an address to the local shelter or church which has ministries set up.
Hey everyone- thanks for these really good, thoughtful, replies. I have really enjoyed reading each of these and learning from all of you.
One response that wasn’t posted on this forum, but came via email is from Bud Moeller, our good friend and financial guru. Our friend Martine sent him a link to this post and asked him what he thought. Bud is a very wise man when it comes to finances and he has helped countless people get on track with budgets, savings, etc. I thought his response was very critical to this dialogue so I am posting it for him below:
I know Brian and Annie Laurie very well. This is
interesting to see their individual responses to the
The overarching point to me is that we’re to be good
stewards, doing what the Lord would have us do with
our resources. Will this be used to further the
Kingdom in some way?
In the general case of beggars, if God puts compassion
in your heart and you feel as if you should give, than
go ahead. It may be the Holy Spirit prompting you. On
the other hand, we’re not commanded to give. We’re
removed from the Old Testament law (and it’s debatable
about whether we’re both in the same town, in the way
it’s used back then). So, now we should be about
spreading God’s love and finding a way to help the
Who’s “the poor?” If I came to you and asked you for
your car, would you give it to me? Wouldn’t you want
to check me out first? Wouldn’t you want to pray about
it? Wouldn’t you want to have some prompting from God?
And if I stood there and said, “Are you going to deny
me transportation?” wouldn’t that sound silly? Yet,
this is the same scenario of Annie Laurie in the
grocery store. No way to tell whether the woman was
poor, whether she’d resell the groceries, etc. I have
seen people leave the clothing pantry at MBC and get
into their 2004 SUVs!
If I were her, I would have probably denied the woman
too, especially if she were badgering me. In fact, I’d
probably have been even more like the guy who turned
her in to the store management. It’s usually a
scam–and being taken by scammers isn’t consistent
with being a good steward.
Safest thing to do? Give your money to organizations
that you respect, whose missions are clear, and who do
a good job of serving the needy. But, even then, you
should only do that when God is prompting you–not
when being pressured to contribute. God wants you to
give with a cheerful heart, as service to the Lord,
not out of man’s pleadings.
Just my two cents worth!
I’m definitely going to high five you on the decision you made and for sticking with you gut. I don’t mind doing charity, or giving to the needy, but nobody should approach someone like that. All it is is a big set up for a large guilty-trip. Don’t let it to get to ya 🙂
Hey yall- thanks for the good discussion. I have had a good number of folks come talk to me about this issue too and I have rlly valued every bit of feedback.
One email I received was from my friend Vi who grew up in Brazil. She had some interesting perspectives as well so I wanted to share those here with all of you:
The story of the woman begging for help really got my attention. I’ve been in that situation a lot back at home… and sometimes is really hard to identify people’s real motives. We really need the Holy spirit guidance on that one. Sometimes we are in doubt and don’t have the answer at the moment and when that happens to me I say no, keep going until i hear something from God. If i do, i go back and help.Or I try to have a conversation with them asking about their lives to see if during our conversation I can get any impression of the person’s character. (It helps when you speak the same language:)
I also don’t think you should feel guilty. We are supposed to help the oppressed and the poor but we are limited and Jesus is the only one who can save everybody!! Pray for her! If God really wanted to use someone to bless her, you saying no is not going to stop it and He’ll send someone else.
I’ve always seen closely both sides of the situation… some that really need you help and some that just opted for begging instead of working, and yes most of the time you need to rely on what you feel or hear from God because some people can fool you really well. I can tell you tons of stories of what I’ve seen on that later…
I look forward to hearing more of those stories soon:)
You know me-go with your intuition. Mine rarely ever leads me astray. Anyone who needed food like she did would go to a church or a mission to ask for help. This was a scam and the absolute proof is that she got angry when you told her no. The other guy she asked that reported her to a store employee did the right thing. Next time you will know. That is what these people count on-that you will feel guilty. Don’t. You did nothing wrong and you do not owe her any explanation as to why you said no. It was nice of Brian and he was extremely generous with the other woman, but I am highly suspect of people that do this sort of thing. I really resent being taken advantage of. Quit thinking about this. Your gut was right. Don’t allow her to make you feel guilty. Sounds like there were several out working the stores that day.
This post struck my attention. I’ve been in very similar situations and I think you acted properly. However sometimes knowing you did the right thing still doesn’t make you feel anybetter. By her badgering you I would assume she was scamming and wouldn’t worry to much about it and the advise some have posted here seems spot on.
One day last year I felt the very same way as you, doubting myself as I denied a beggar women as she approached me in a shopping center parking lot in Herndon, until…. I ran into the same beggar women the very next day in a shopping center parking lot in Falls Church, holding the very same card, asking me to help feed her children.
Talk about an eye opener… God had given me the opportunity the next day to see the truth of this scam, and to see why I had such an “uneasy” feeling in my gut when she first approached me.
Hopefully this experience will serve as an eye opener to you and many others. When we’re in regular connection with God, we must trust the Holy Spirit, who resides in us, when we have that “uneasy” gut feeling!
Ultimatey, we should/need to pray for those people who have little (or no) conscience in deceiving others, because it’s likely that they don’t have the Holy Spirit residing in them.