Monday 17 January 2011

When to give

Do you give to someone who begs you for money on the street?

Yes... what is a few coins to me, but it could mean a lot to them.

No... they're only going to spend it on drugs/alcohol.

I've been finding this question surprisingly difficult to answer. The debate appears never ending. It's a little easier to resist beggars as a tourist. But living here, the question becomes a little more complex. These are my neighbours.

In South Africa, the contrast between rich and poor is great. You can't escape from poverty when it's right on your doorstep. In many areas there are high walls with electric wires and 24-hour patrolling security on one side of the street, and shacks on the other with no security at all. Apart from, that is, the 'security' that comes from the gang culture which is ever-increasing here.

In the work that we do in Africa, it would feel somehow wrong if, after helping the people we reach out to in this continent, we do not care for those who live on our own doorstep. The easy answer (to say to to yourself) is: “the money you give all just goes on drugs, don't give.” or, “you'll be inundated...once they see you as a soft spot, they'll just come back for more and more.”. Both of these things I have said before – maybe to ease my own guilt/conscience in not helping those around us. That was until I had a conversation with the pastor's wife, who set me straight!

“What does it cost us, to help them a little bit?” she told me. I feel so much more part of the community when I am friends with both rich and poor around me.”

This really challenged me. I know that the pastor's family is not rich. Far from it. They are living on a small budget and have to rely a lot of the time on the generosity of others for their own needs (they have just recently been donated a car to do their ministry). They live in a 'rich' part of town, protected by the usual security features. Yet they embrace the community around them.

“The communities here are very well connected,” she went on to tell me. “We had our car radio stolen and I was chatting to a guy begging outside the 7-11. He knows me and knows my heart. I've chatted to him a lot. He said to me 'sister, you are a good woman. I will help you get your radio back'. I kid you not, when I say that within two days, my car radio was returned to me.”

I wasn't sure what to make of that. Again, my cynical mind came up saying: It was the beggar who stole it in the first place or, There's a protection racket going on here but she wasn't at all thinking in that way. She said that she feels so much safer living in a community where she is not flaunting her wealth to those who don't have much, rather sharing what little she had with anyone and everyone she meets. She is a warm, happy, welcoming person whose love for others impressed me to do something. A small step, I know, but now when I go out I pledge to give what little I have (time, food, or even money!) to those in the community in which I live. Becky and I have budgeted our income and we aren't exactly 'flush with cash', but we are learning that we can still share what little we have.

In Africa, there's always room for one more.

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