My job was to run across the street to the ATM, but I kept getting distracted, first by the cardboard sign's offer of cheap bananas and then by the chunk of cardboard the guy was holding. I was able to make out the word "Homeless," followed by fine print I couldn't read from my safe distance.
I didn't want to be rude and stare, so I tried going about my duties while glancing from time to time to assess the situation. He was wearing a jacket and standing just out of the rain, but lacking a pac-mac scarf he relied on the jacket's collar to keep his neck warm. And along with his cardboard sign, he was holding out a small plastic bucket.
Wait... he was begging. In my city! I've lived in Christchurch most of my life and I don't think I've ever seen someone begging like that.
As I continued to watch out the corner of my eye I noticed a good number of people collecting their 99c bananas, but they didn't know how to respond to the guy. I'm sure they all noticed him - it was impossible not to. But everyone acted as if he wasn't there. I'm not quite sure why no one acknowledged him or stopped to put something in his bucket. I guess acknowledging him meant you actually had to act, and that would be inconvenient and awkward. So what did I do?
I didn't know what to do either! I'm well aware that Jesus calls me to respond to the needs of the least of these, but its not often I'm confronted like this in my city. I've been in other contexts, societies that don't care much for their poor and needy, and it's easier to know what to do there. But here there's shelters, there's benefits, there's organisations that care for the poor. So why was he on the street?
I felt a bit paralysed. I couldn't just harden my heart and completely ignore him as an inconvenience. But on the other hand, I didn't know how to act. Giving money isn't the solution. Maybe he just needed someone to advocate for him at WINZ? Maybe he just needed someone to advise him where to look for help? Maybe he just needed a friend to validate him as a loved human being?
I felt a strange combination of awkward, uncomfortable, loving and hard-hearted. After stalling a moment, I jumped back in the car. After all, I had my wife and soon-to-be grumpy boy in there, and we were under time pressure to get to our destination. Jesus would prioritise a trademe seller over a human being freezing on the street, right?
Asides from the internal wrestling this incident caused, it raises another important question for me as a new dad. Just like with any discipleship relationship, my boy is going to grow up watching what I do. The way he views and interacts with the poor is going to be influenced by what he sees me doing. Do I want to raise a boy who instinctively takes the time for people in need, even if it's as simple as asking someone begging how they're doing? Or do I want to teach him how to ignore people like that?
I never did get close enough to read the fine print.
What should I have done differently? How would you respond if you were in my shoes? Would you have been distracted by the 99c bananas? And importantly, is the life you're living a life you'd want others to emulate?
Now that we've looked at what I could have done, watch out for an opportunity where you're tempted to walk away. Instead do something.
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