Whaddya do when a homeless guy just walks into your church building and snoozes on a pew?
We all know that in life we’re supposed to help others.
But do we, or is it just a nice thought that makes us feel better?
Why bother if all they do is disappoint?
For most of my life, I stayed clear of anyone I deemed suspicious and especially of those that asked me for money.
It’s a fair point that growing up I never had any, so it totally makes sense, but I would avoid looking at the people asking as much as possible.
Heck, you don’t know what he or she’s going to do with your money! You don’t know when the last time he showered was, just thinking of all the germs makes you shudder. As horrible as it is, sometimes we may not even consider them people.
But at the same time, you know that there are people who need help out there. How do you figure out what to do without screwing yourself over?
Dealing with people is a skill that anyone can learn. It just takes a practice. Maybe you just never were around an environment of people that deals directly with them. It’s not your fault.
Back to the guy on the pew.
Our Thursday meeting hadn’t started yet and we were just getting set up. When I told my Dad about the man who decided to plop down on a pew he went over to see if the man was ok. In his stupor, the man apologized saying he came to pray and was about to leave, but my Dad assured him he could rest. Back to snoozing he went.
A good 30 minutes later, he awoke and began disrupting the service. We’re used to people saying random things, but the man didn’t stop. Eventually, he began to heckle while asking for money.
He complained, “what’s the point of church if you don’t give money to people?” As always we offered to help him with something concrete like a meal or a ticket to someplace to no avail.
He left disappointed despite his originally stated purpose of communing with God.
Stories with the Homeless
In my opinion, the word homeless can be a misnomer. It’s an umbrella term that we use for people at bus and train stations because of the way they look.
Encountering homeless people over the years has never been easy. Every beggar and homeless person is different as are their needs, level of aggression, and mental health. As always safety is important, but let me assure you in all the years I’ve befriended (yes befriended) these people I’ve never been physically attacked.
I want to open your mind to the fact that being homeless is a profession just as any other job.
And to do that, I’ll share various stories from my many encounters. The ones with dates were taken and adapted from Facebook statuses. Some of them are pretty funny too so get ready…
Here we go.
When You’re the Devil and You Disappoint
Feb 23, 2014
After a long day hanging out with fellow Indonesians, we went to grab a late dinner from the world-famous Halal Guys at 53rd and 6th in NYC. Sidenote; They no longer taste anywhere near as good…
A homeless guy was peddling where we were sitting. We were a huge group, and I have no problem with him asking for money, it’s kind of what they do–except when I’m eating, but that’s besides the point.
The majority of the group were kids anywhere from 8-15 years old. He bothered all my little brothers and sisters that I was with. He would not let them go. Why? Because their parents were right there. If the kids would ask their parents for money, he’d make bank!
After watching this for a bit I exploded. This is never the approach one should take so please learn from my mistakes.
I could tell from his accent that he was a Spanish speaker. I told him in Spanish, “Please stop bothering them. They’re only kids, and they don’t have any money. Enough is enough.”
The typical reaction would probably be the bird and then look for other people to ask.
Not him. He absolutely exploded!
“YOU’RE A DEMON. YOU’RE GOING TO HELL. YOU NEED TO REPENT.”
It’s hard to remember the last time I’ve been so insulted. Always having been an “angel” since I was a kid meant I never heard things like this.
Felt like a knife to my heart.
Lesson? As always, Fiel needs to cool down. I would have been much better off trying to get to know him or saying nothing at all.
The Y-M-C-A and a Place to Stay
Feb 28, 2014
My general consensus is to always give the homeless the benefit of the doubt, even though 90% of the time the result will disappoint. While walking out of Panera on the way to do a project with a friend, we are stopped by a man with a mission.
“Hey guys, I want to get straight to the point.”
He doesn’t. He instead tells us how got fired and has nowhere to stay, directly asking for $20 to stay at the YMCA which was down the street. My friend was kind of on edge and wanted to get this project over with. Finals week was around the corner after all.
I took him at his word and said let’s go without giving him the money. Once we reached the steps of the YMCA, he asked me to stay outside and said I could watch him go inside and give the money to whoever was there. (Very slick…) I refused.
He was looking for a specific lady who wasn’t working that day. He couldn’t wait on line any more than a toddler can’t wait to go potty.
We were helped by another lady and I explained the situation inquiring as to the cost. SURPRISE!!
She told me that the YMCA no longer offered that service as of over a year ago (nor did she know the price). I decided I did my share as time was running short.
As we walked out, he proceeded to ask for a dollar or two. I told him, “No, but what I can do is buy you something to eat!”
His response? “I already ate.”
Thus ended the day. I will continue giving the benefit of the doubt, as frustrating as it is to love these people. We all need grace and love.
Everyone Fasts on Thanksgiving
Nov 29, 2013
This is going to be the most UNORTHODOX Thanksgiving Facebook status you will ever read. Yes, you’re going to read this long post because it will benefit you in the future. I advocate helping the needy and homeless, we are all human.
The problem is, some of these people are professional con artists. Through their craftiness, they know how the human heart works. They know their audience more than lawyers know their cases. Churches and organizations are supposed to help these people for sure, but my point is in our eagerness to help, sometimes we can get screwed over.
I hung out with one such person today. He came to my church asking for money but we don’t hand out cash. Rather we give something they can consume or enjoy. So he asked for a MetroCard but since it was Thanksgiving he asked when our service would start and end. He promised to be back when it started and went out the door.
He timed himself so that he would arrive when he figured the service would be over and food would be served. There I was. When he saw me, he complained that the MetroCard only had $10 on it because at the time it would last two days. This was when it was still $2.25 a ride (damn you MTA.)
“Sorry it’s not as much as you wanted. Well, let’s head into the sanctuary-“
“Uh, no. I’d rather not. I’m not properly dressed and I’m not Asian. I can stay right here. I’m a Christian so the Lord knows my heart.”
“No disrespect sir, if you really know the Lord, you know that he doesn’t care HOW you’re dressed. There are others who are half as dressed. Skin doesn’t matter either, there’s a black man and a couple of white folks sitting in the pews. All are welcome. I’ll see you inside.”
He decided to sit outside for half an hour before he finally came in. Ten minutes later we were out in the lobby following the crowd to the turkey and gravy.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I’ve decided I’m fasting today until midnight.”
Sirens went off in my head. ON THANKSGIVING?!?!? Any day of the year but Thanksgiving! I’d almost let Christmas slide…
“Since I’m fasting, I won’t be able to join you for dinner,” he stammers. “But if you don’t mind I have this with me,” and pulls out a plastic bag with tupperware. “We can fill this up and I’ll be on my way.”
This guy was out of control. Hell yeah I mind!
“Sure, I understand you’re fasting. But regardless, we want your presence with us regardless of if you’re eating or not. So you’re staying.” That’s right, I was “kidnapping” a homeless guy.
He was hesitant but then realized I wasn’t going to relent. I was not about to jump a line to fill his tupperware while he waited in the lobby. He was coming with me. Even while we were waiting on the line he kept expressing how uncomfortable he was. After the essentials, we headed for dessert. Last of all he tried to take a bottle of coke home, like the two-liter ones.
Once he had all the food groups he still wasn’t finished. “Do you mind if I go home now? I’ve got everything I need.”
“No. You promised you would come down and sit with us. You’re coming with me and we’re going to sit with everyone.” With that I walked him to where all my friends were sitting and introduced him. As everyone was having their fill, he sat there unsure of what to do with himself. He was hungry.
You’ve gotta give it to him. He’s got persistence.
Throughout and after the meal it turns out from talking to him, he knew all the Christianese lingo and Bible knowledge to go with. It gets better. The man spoke Spanish and French. Even a little German!
What was touching is this. Before he left, he even pulled me aside and asked if we could pray for each other which we did. He left telling me he would be back next week and Christmas, when I would be back from college.
Whether he was a con-artist or not, I don’t know for sure, but I know that whatever God used me to do today was for his glory no matter how angry I actually was. In the end, I didn’t have mashed potatoes or turkey today. But I was able to turn the other cheek and give the man my tunic and to serve the Lord in the most miraculous way.
Give people an inch, they’ll take a mile and this was an example of a very extreme case. It is good to feel for people and give your heart, but do not lose your guard! You must realize your good heart can be crushed by people that can potentially be con-artists. Be safe, and Happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. He told me later he never fasts.
Practice What You Preach
This is the last story in this post with a good dose of positivity.
Back in September 2016, I taught the teens in my home church about loving out loud through conversation. I told them this means even taking the time to talk to homeless people!
As Asians, we’re taught to not even think about helping because we know they’ll use it for drugs etc. To give to homeless people would be disobeying our parents. I shared the various experiences I had and let it sit with them.
Later in the week, while sitting in Bryant Park together we were approached by a homeless guy. Time to practice what you preach!
He began to share his story about how he needed to make a phone call and then my sister recognized him.
“Hey, what happened when I tried to help you two weeks ago? We went to the store to get your baby milk but you didn’t pick up your phone!”
We listened to Jeff (I think that was his name) talk about all the things he was going through. He completely forgot about the phone call.
Because I was with kids 16 and younger we couldn’t give him any money. But I listed off a bunch of places he could visit for help.
We let him finish saying everything he had to say and we prayed with him. Before he left he said, “Thanks for taking time out, and making me feel like a person.”
Stop Looking for Something in Return
These stories are pretty frustrating to read, aren’t they? The return of investment was also pretty horrible if I do say so myself.
It doesn’t matter if you gained something or if the person you spoke to was honest.
When we love out loud, we come for just out. We look for someone to love.
If you came looking to feel good and meet an honest person, don’t be surprised if you’re disappointed. Look for honesty with friends and family. But first and foremost, be honest with yourself.
Why do you give? Why do you love?
Love for love’s sake and nothing else. That’s how you be incredible.