Bear ye one another’s burdens

Homeless

As the US is fast approaching its Thanksgiving holiday, I want to take a moment to talk about need and generosity. I had an interesting experience last week that has consumed my thoughts for several days. On my walk home from work, I ran into a pair of sister missionaries who were visiting my neighborhood. Though I was cold and tired and hungry, I stopped for about 20 minutes to chat with these nice ladies. I asked them about their homes and families, and we talked about my job and volunteer work. I don’t go to church, I told them, but I honor God in giving my time to serve the people and animals he created. I find joy and peace in socializing rescued animals that are up for adoption, in packing baskets of food and household supplies for Syrian refugees, and in giving what I can – food, water, a few dollars – to the needy I see around me.

In fact, I told them, I have two cases of water in my car right now! Can I give you a case of water for you to give to the needy you meet?

I was shocked to hear that the answer was no. No, they told me. We’re not allowed to give anything to the homeless.

I was sad at this, and I told them so. Not because I’m self-righteous and count my charitable giving so high, but because I have personally been on the receiving end of rather a lot of charity. When I was growing up, my family was often in need. I ate a lot of food from Deseret Industries (I still get nauseated at the smell of the orange drink powder). Sometimes the church paid our rent, and sometimes the government did. Sometimes we stayed with other families, and during one memorable period during the cold months in Michigan, we stayed in a campground.

We had no home. We were homeless.

I was eight or nine at the time. I lived in a small camper trailer with my parents and one sister (the other two slept in an aunt’s basement). There was one bed, which my parents used, and my sister and I each curled up on a short, narrow dining bench. We cooked on a hotplate and tramped through the dark and cold to use the toilet and shower.

It wasn’t like camping. To this day, I hate camping because it reminds me of being homeless. But also I think this and other experiences have shaped my tender heart. When I see someone in need, I will give cash when I have it. If I don’t, I’ll ask what I can buy for them at a nearby store. If I don’t have cash or time to spare, I sincerely apologize, and I really do feel badly for having to say No. I keep water bottles in my car ready to hand out, and in the winter, I prepare packets of gloves, socks, chapstick, etc to deliver to those I pass.

I do this because these men and women are fellow children of God. They are my real and true brothers and sisters, and I feel compelled to do what is in my power to bring a little relief to their day.

Poverty, homelessness – these are not indicative of a person’s character or worth. They are indicative of circumstances only. I can not see a homeless person and not be reminded of my own experience. I do what I can, and it was shocking to me that these missionaries, sent into the world to serve God’s children, are forbidden from providing the smallest relief, a donated water bottle, to the most desperate among us.

In this circumstance, I feel as though rules, regulations, and policies are obstructing the work of Christ. This is not God to me, and hearing it broke my heart. For me, doing what is right is more important than doing what is correct.

 

Kalliope

Kalliope is the youngest of four sisters. She loves baking, travelling, coding, reading, and learning new languages.

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9 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    Wow, Kalliope, this is powerful. This is probably obvious, but generalizing from your experience, I wonder if all of us are more willing to help a person when they’re in a circumstance that we can imagine ourselves in.

    • kalliope4exponent says:

      Thank you, Ziff. I think you’re right on the money with your observation. I am more likely to give of my time and resources to things that have already impacted my life. I donate money for animal welfare, Muscular Dystrophy research, and autism research, because those causes have impacted my life. I see the homeless, look into their eyes, talk to them, and give what I can because I have been homeless, though I had far more shelter and resources than most others have.
      I think most people can’t really fathom homelessness. What does it take to become homeless? Bad luck and a lack of support system. I know every day that with a bit of my own bad luck, it would be possible to be back there.

  2. Patricia I Johnson says:

    The saddest experience I ever had was when the person panhandling was a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I had been her birth coach. When I changed jobs we lost touch. She was horrified that I recognized her. I hugged her and gave her everything I had in my purse ($40). I never saw her again.

    • kalliope4exponent says:

      Thank you for sharing, Patricia. That sounds like a painful encounter, but I’m glad to hear that you took time to connect and provide some comfort. So many people don’t even look at panhandlers, and so likely wouldn’t notice if they did pass someone they knew. You looked, you saw her.

  3. Kristin Godwin says:

    I have a strong testimony that when someone is in need, you give. It is part of recognizing God’s grace in our lives, and that we are part of God’s grace in the lives of others. I know there are times that I’ve been burned by false stories, but I really don’t care. Those who have really needed helped received helped. Those who were scamming were, hopefully, touched by love. And I know that through Karma I’m putting forth action and energy in the world of kindness that I believe will ripple back to me when I am in need (and has)!

  4. Jim says:

    I always try to give something to those I encounter. If I have any of my children with me I give them the money to put in the person’s pot.

    As with Kristin, it is not my place to judge whether the person deserves the money. It is my responsibility to help someone I see in “need”.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I had a similar disheartening experience with the rules getting in the way of Christ-like behavior. There was a young family on a corner, looking for money to meet rent. Not knowing that beforehand, I went to a nearby grocery store to get a gift card they could use for whatever needed…except for rent. After speaking with the wife, I gave what else I could and then called the RS president to let her know of the family in need. She said call the Bishop. So I called the Bishop whose wife said he couldn’t help because they weren’t in the ward boundaries. I hadn’t asked for their address, only knew the city they said they had their motel room, but Bishop’s wife said it wasn’t enough info to get the right phone number for the Bishop who could help them get the funds to meet their rent.

    I was furious. I was also trying to figure out if I was staying in or leaving the church, as this was somewhat near the same-sex couple policy. I felt like once again, all those lessons and scriptures about helping the poor were for nothing if the church was going to let rules and boundaries get in the way of helping a family who was about to become homeless if they couldn’t pay the week’s rent. Once again, I felt like this wasn’t the gospel I’d grown up believing so sincerely.

    I’ve heard the justification that if the church were to just go help everyone sans rules and boundaries to reign it in, people would take advantage of it. Logistically, I see the point. Religiously, I can’t help but still feel our Heavenly Parents must be sad about all the times rules were cited to not help the needy.

    • Jim says:

      Sad that on a feminist site you point out that it was the Bishop’s wife making these decisions. I, and I know my stake president also, would not have cared what ward they were in. There is, ultimately, only one Welfare Pot – containing the Fast Offerings of the people.

      I would have gotten past that wife, who I probably would not have even told the situation to, and spoken to the Bishop.

  6. Lo says:

    I have very mixed feelings about this. I was a missionary in Europe, and at times was frustrated that we were told not to give anything to panhandlers (though I know a few sisters kept granola bars in their purses for this purpose, anyway). On the other hand, we spent all day walking around streets and taking public transportation and had several very uncomfortable encounters with [mentally ill] homeless people. I’m torn because having the black name tag synonymous with charitable giving seems like a really great thing, but I can also picture myself as a 20 year-old foreigner with another 20-year old foreigner, trying to figure out what to say or do if a reputation for black name tag charity meant that people felt they could approach us and demand some sort of immediate help that we wouldn’t be prepared to provide at that moment.
    We were supposed to have a number of service hours every week, and to seek out service opportunities– but I found it surprisingly difficult to do. We couldn’t just get on the internet and google it. (But maybe that’s easier now with the justserve.org site.) I wish there were more formal arrangements in place– like partnerships with other organizations– for missionaries to serve through.

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