By Robin Mullins Senger
I have a personal opinion about charity that comes out of some painful experience. The Bible talks a great deal about charity and there is one verse in particular which intrigues me.
Proverbs 19:17: "Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to the LORD— the benefit of his gift will return to him in abundance."
Some of you are familiar with my story of being stranded in Chile a few years ago. Our family had just moved to Colorado Springs and settled in when less than a month later my husband Brian decided to make an impulsive move to Chile with our three small daughters and myself. His motive of starting an orphanage seemed seductively altruistic at the time, but it was not to be.
Instead, the trip was a disaster.
As the girls and I followed Brian around the country for five weeks while he searched for work, the money he had brought dwindled quickly. Our meals quickly became inexpensive cheese and bread. Cheese and bread for breakfast, cheese and bread for lunch, cheese and bread for dinner. Before long Brian and I were restricting ourselves to almost nothing in order to feed the girls. At first, Brian attempted to get the girls a hot hamburger at McDonalds every day or so.
One day we went in to give the girls a burger and let them play a little. As Brian and I sat at the table languishing in our growing hopelessness, a beggar boy walked up to us.
“Peso?” He held out his hand. “Peso?” His hair was a rumpled mess, his clothes looked slept in. His face was pitiful – the picture of sadness and hopelessness and poverty.
One good thing about Brian was he was generous to those in need. Probably a by-product of a previous life of homelessness himself. He pulled out his wallet and gave almost the last of our money to the beggar boy, which wasn’t much – perhaps another meal for the girls, but still too much in my exhausted estimation at the time.
The boy broke into a big grin and sauntered off to another table. Right over to what became obvious as his well-to-do parents. His parents grinned and high-fived him, congratulating him. He held out his hand and showed them the peso’s Brian had given him and then pocketed them. His mother combed his hair down and tucked his shirt in and gave him his coat. He transformed from a pitiful beggar boy to a very well-off entitled spoiled brat in front of my eyes. I couldn’t believe it as they all walked away, still congratulating him on duping those stupid Americans, and looking at us and laughing.
It was humiliating and infuriating.
I remember thinking, as I steamed over that scene often the next few days as we went hungry, Brian’s intentions were good. Does God still repay us when we get duped?
A few days later I found out. We had arrived in our final destination of Iquique. We had no more money to travel and look for work. Whatever was to happen to us would happen in this small beach town. We wandered the streets hour after hour for lack of anything else to do. Since Brian had cut off communication with our family and acquaintances in America, we had no expectation of help beyond what we could possibly come with ourselves.
We tried to continue to look and act like normal American tourists, just out strolling around taking in the sights. It was exhausting, frightening and depressing. I was fearful of what our future held. So we walked, and walked and walked. Miles every day. Pushing the children in strollers. Mile after mile after mile.
There came a time when we had nothing.
Not even one peso left. The children were hungry and thirsty. They were tired of water and dry bread and cheese. I knew they were becoming sick and didn’t know what to do to help them. Spirits were at an all-time low.
As we walked up a street, past the small marketplaces, an arm reached out with a bottle of something. As we got closer, the rest of the arm stepped out – revealing a kind-faced woman who shoved some bottles of juice and snacks at the girls.
Brian, still proud and determined he would take care of us himself, refused them. But she would not be dissuaded and slipped away. The girls gratefully smiled and enjoyed a pleasant reprieve. That small act of kindness was like being thrown a lifeboat just before we drowned. It picked up spirits and helped us to get through the rest of that day.
During one of the hardest seasons of my life, I experienced many moments of divine intervention. This was one of them, and I realized that the sustenance my children received that day from that woman was worth many times more than the peso’s my husband had given to the boy at McDonalds.
I will always remember that lesson, and since then do not worry so much about whether people are defrauding me or not. I know that what matters is a heart attitude of graciousness to others, and having faith that God alone rightfully keeps score and truly does repay us for helping others.
Deuteronomy 15:10 - "You must certainly give to him and not feel regret for doing so. Because of this, the LORD your God will bless all your works and everything you do."