By Jean Roesler
Recently I visited the beautiful city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Taking the ferry to get there meant that everywhere we went we had to walk; but Victoria is easily a walkable city and a great place to explore. Like most big cities, it has its share of street artists, panhandlers, and homeless people. For some, this is a way of life; for others it’s a way to make a living; and for others it’s a way to eek out an existence. For some it’s a choice; for others it’s a necessity.
I confess that my usual response to street people is to avoid eye contact. After all, if you can’t see them, they and their art, their wares, or even their presence don’t exist and I don’t feel as though I have to acknowledge them or give to their livelihood and choices. Another tactic is to conveniently cross the street before you get to them, and then casually look like you are interested in some storefront and that’s why you really crossed the street.
Yet, deep in my heart, I’m always confused, conflicted, and convicted that I do nothing. I tell myself that “I can’t save the whole world” or “I’d only be contributing to an addiction of some sort” or “I’m sure cities don’t want homeless people where the tourists are, so don’t contribute to the problem.” I once read that most homeless people are homeless by choice. I like to believe that, but is it really true? Probably not. I’m good at rationalizing my thoughts and actions though.
On this trip, however, I had a bag-full of Canadian coins that we had collected over the years. You can’t take them to a US bank and exchange them, so essentially they are worthless. My husband gave me the bag and told me to “spend liberally.”
My “spending” was to give to some of the street people. As I gave some coins to a young girl, I read her sign that she held out. Pregnant. I wondered where her mother was and why wasn’t she there to help. What else was there about this young girl’s story? I said a silent prayer for her and her unborn baby.
Another man was obviously handicapped. As I dropped some money into his baseball cap, I noticed at the bottom was a card that said, “Jesus.” The man gratefully thanked me.
Yes this “spending” made me feel good but it didn’t really solve my guilt problem. You see, I can’t save the world. I can’t and won’t help every homeless person that crosses my path (I’m only being realistic here). So what am I supposed to do?
Lord, don’t let me forget that once I was homeless, but by your grace, I was saved and have a home in heaven. Help me to see all the people of your world and when I’m asked, “Lady, can you spare a dime?” maybe what I should hear is “Lady, can you spare a prayer?” That I can do.
Can you spare a prayer today for someone who needs help?