Bear ye one another’s burdens
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.