Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Scam or an Opportunity to Serve Jesus?

Because I serve in an urban setting, I often have people stopping by the church asking for financial assistance. Rarely do I give money. I might take them to the gas station and fill their tank or give them food directly, but even that hardly ever happens. I have been burned more than once by people who are playing me and have grown cautious. I'm usually quick to send them away. In as nice a way as possible, of course.

So, today, a man and his wife and their little boy showed up in my office. I decided before I met them that they weren't getting any money out of me. The man had a wooden cross hanging from his neck and he introduced himself to me as a minister. He handed me a flyer from his ministry, which serves the homeless in Charlotte. Every Wednesday they serve pizza in the park to hundreds of people. Of course, all the while I'm listening I'm waiting to hear what he wants. Is he soliciting money for his ministry? I continue to listen, nodding my head, really thinking about how I am going to gently turn him down and send them on their way.

His story was that his ministry has received some funding, which they will receive this afternoon. They had been staying in the house owned by a woman who ended up losing the house, so they had to move. Since then, they've been living in a hotel room. Okay, here it comes, I'm thinking. They want money for their hotel room. They explain that they don't have the money to pay for the room and they need it by 11:00 or they're going to get kicked out. Yep, money for a room, I was right. And, it was pushing 11:00 so they needed it immediately. Of course.

But there was something about this guy. He seemed sincere and his family did, too. I had no doubt that his ministry was legit. So, for some reason unknown to me I asked him how much he needed. The room was forty-three dollars a night. (What kind of a room could you rent in Charlotte for forty-three a night? I didn't want to think about it.) And he had ten dollars. So he needed thirty-three. Okay, thirty-three dollars. This was not a large amount of money. They were not living a lavish lifestyle. And they were doing good in the community. I could do this. "Let me see what I can do," I said.

He told me that if I wanted to call the hotel and use a credit card, that would work. He pulled out proof of his bill. His wife offered to come back in the afternoon and return the money after they received their funding. But really, thirty three dollars? So, I dug into my purse and pulled out my wallet. "Let's see how much I have here."

I started pulling out bills and counting them. I had a twenty and a five and then a bunch of ones. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven... eight. "You aren't going to believe how much money I have in my wallet," I told them. "Thirty three dollars."

His eyes filled with tears. Her eyes filled with tears. And then mine did the, too. I felt a chill going up my spine. Oh, my. Of course, the money was theirs.

Was it a scam? Possibly. But if it was, it was the best scam ever. And that alone was worth thirty-three dollars. Who knows? It's also possible that these three visitors gave me an opportunity to do something for Jesus. And that's the story I'm choosing to believe.

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