Connecting with Culture
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Seemingly, she was poor and hungry, throwing herself on the mercy of strangers to get through another day. ‘GOD BLESS FOR YOUR HELP’ it solicited.
What does it mean to be a whole-life disciple, passing by pandemic poverty? Admittedly, I’m torn.
This was panhandling, outlawed by authorities. She had energy to walk the carriages, so couldn’t she expend value-adding labour without hassling commuters? Didn’t Paul say, ‘no work, no eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10)?
Besides, many warn that cash without accountability can ‘kill with kindness’, reinforcing the poverty-cycle. Jesus commanded ‘giving to all who ask’ (Luke 6:30-31), but surely he didn’t mean funding a possible addiction, thereby harming a fellow image-bearer?
Still, I squirmed at the inner collision of scepticism toward anyone asking for my cash, with a conscience that asked if she truly was a neighbour in need.
What if she was one of over four million UK kids – 17% of all children – facing food poverty? Was she, too, left with a grumbling stomach, despite Marcus Rashford’s best strike at securing free school meals in the holiday break? Politics aside, I too wonder: ‘can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?’
Whether it comes through government, council, business or individual donations, almost all judge a healthy feed to be a solid investment. It’s perhaps the most responsible £30 million debt to carry, for ‘mercy to the needy is a loan to God, and God pays back those loans in full’ (Proverbs 19:17).
How easy, though, to reduce this girl on the train to an inconvenient statistic, a problem that ‘they’ must solve, rather than a person God calls me to love.
In the moment, I failed even to acknowledge her presence. Later, I pursued regular giving to a community doing life with those in need, holistically extending a hand-up rather than a hand-out. Even so, I still pocket coins ready to follow the Spirit’s leading. To look my neighbour in the eyes, and – when prompted – buy her a meal and hear her story. To simply be kind while she passes by, occasionally dropping a quid in the hat.
Whatever your response, following Jesus is costly, and rarely calculating. Smart charity or not, upside-down love – not self-protection – must mark my way. Agreed?
Director, Centre for Culture & Discipleship