THESE BEGGARS ARE BOTHERSOME

The beggars have really been bothering me lately.

They always put me in a public spectacle, testing my generosity and Christian concern. They make me think long and hard about injustice and poverty. And the longer I think, the less solutions I come up with.

Sometimes I see them from a distance, and cross the street on the far side like a bad Samaritan.

They bother me because a few coins probably won’t make an eternal difference. I hate the hollow sound of a coin clinking in the empty can

of a one-armed girl in tattered clothing;
of a pained mother with an infant in her arms;
of the old man, out of work, out of cash, out of hope.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not that stingy. I always give a few coins. Sometimes I give a 20 Peso bill. Other times I hand out a crumpled 5 Yuan donation.

That’s big of me, isn’t it?

A coin helps a little. A bill even more. But I wonder what kind of riches a hug would bring to “one of the least of these.”

In fact, I’m just trying to recall when the last time was that I actually touched someone who asked for a small offering.

These beggars are bothering me because I know that my infinitesimal contribution won’t last long. Plus, I don’t have enough time between point A and B to teach a man to fish.

It was a sidewalk encounter.
They spotted me and blitzed.
It was a targeted attack.

But let me interject for clarity’s sake.

These are not the “will work for food” bums you usually see. Or the bolder, more honest “will work for alcohol” bunch. The combination of soap and a razor blade on scruffy chin would make a world of difference for them. Or simply the will to work, even if it’s just for minimum wage.

Because minimum wage in the West is luxurious where I live.

Yes, I am biased. Yes, perhaps I am more inclined to support the beggar in an underdeveloped/developing region of the world than I am to give to the cause of my own countrymen.

Recently I was sitting with a friend in Xian, China. A 40 year old mother with baby slung around her back approached us while we sat under the Bell Tower at Starbucks. Her eyes were as hollow as the hand she outstretched imploringly.

“Do you want to give her a few coins?” I asked.
“I don’t give to beggars, man,” my friend said. “I worked hard for what I got.”

Ouch. Not everyone believes it’s better to give than to receive, I guess.

There are escape routes to poverty, but sometimes the passage is a tiny fissure covered with dirty plastic bags and cigarette butts and lack of education.

The gutters get clogged with trash.
Cardboard box homes disintegrate.
All turns back to mud, then when the storm subsides, dust.

I am upset for these beggars because of the descending spiral they are caught up in. Like an endless flush, they swirl around and aroud and.

The tattered clothing of the one-armed girl is dirtier than I remember.
The bare feet of the frail mother cradling her infant needs washing.
The hopeless old man looks on the verge of a sad emotional storm.

The truth is, I am involved with community development and poverty alleviation. There are countless people I have helped and inspired through the efforts of Within Reach Global. Our staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to impact whole villages. Peoples’ lives have been transformed. Hope shines all around.

But facetime with the ones slipping through the gaps is a hard pill for me to swallow.

Wait.

There is a scrawny boy outside the window, tapping on the pane as the rain water logs his t-shirt. “Sir. Coins.” His lips move but I hear nothing. He’s actually more cute than bothersome.

I’ll be right back.

The rest of my contemplations will have to wait. I’m gonna go give him a hug and a coin, and voluntarily make a fool of myself.

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