The world is a scary place. The world is a heartbreaking place. Every day it seems there is a new story that hits me right in the gut. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes in the face of overwhelming sadness I shut down because I can’t think of any way to help. I’m just one person and anything I do seems so small. Last week in church my pastor shared an astonishing fact. The congressional district my church is located in (South Philly) is the 2nd poorest congressional district in the country! In the whole country! This blows my mind. Instead of looking at that fact as a call to action I have spent most of the week in a kind of frozen free that if not checked will gradually turn into apathy. How am I supposed to make any kind of difference when those are the odds I am up against? Even being part of a church body is limiting. There is no way we can fix it all.
I’ve been praying that God will shake me out of my fear because I do know that to do nothing is not an option. But I also know that I’m severely limited in a lot of the typical ways that people can help. Money is definitely an obstacle right now. I’m barely making my loan payments as it is and that’s only because I still live with my parents who very generously don’t charge me rent. My time availability has also become severely limited recently. I work from 2-9 Monday through Thursday with an hour commute each way as well as Saturday from 9-3. Convoy of Hope (an organization I interned with and cannot speak highly enough about) is doing an outreach in Philadelphia this Saturday and I can’t be there no matter how much I might want to.
All of this has been on my mind a lot lately because as I mentioned I have an hour commute each way to work. This means I’m in the car with a lot of time to think. It was during this drive that I feel like I finally got a bit of my answer. Every night while driving home I inevitably end up sitting at a light just off of RT 76 waiting to turn right and go over the Ben Franklin Bridge. If you drive in Philly at all you know that oftentimes at these lights there will be homeless people who will use the time the light is red to walk in between the cars on the off chance that someone will open their window and give them something.
Now being a young girl driving alone at night I tend to employ what I call the stare straight ahead and don’t make eye contact method when this happens to me. I do this without guilt because most of the time I encounter this the homeless person has been male. I believe Jesus wants us to help but I also believe he wants me to use my common sense and be safe. I was putting this method into practice Tuesday night when all of sudden this person walked directly in front of my car and we made eye contact. I looked up and saw a girl who was probably around my age holding a cigarette in one hand and a sign in the other that said “homeless and need help. Anything you can give, please.”
Immediately I felt a voice inside my head say, “Give her the money that’s in your wallet right now.” First of all let me just get out of the way how often I have heard the Holy Spirit speak to me that clearly in my soul; the answer is rarely if ever. Seriously, I reeled back in my seat that’s how surprising the thought was to me. Second, I hardly ever have cash on me (I’m a debit card girl) but just that morning I’d deposited a paycheck and kept cash out to buy some groceries. Third, the fact that I had a paycheck to cash that day was not typical. I get paid every 2 weeks and only started at my job in the beginning of September. But my boss decided to pay me for my first week instead of waiting two weeks. All of this to say that I feel pretty confident that God was setting me up for this moment.
(As a quick side note I don’t know what your view is on giving homeless people money and frankly my thoughts on it are not the point of this blog. I will say that I think when God tells you to help someone you help them however he tells you to. It’s not my job to tell her how to spend the money I give her. It’s my job to be open to the Holy Spirit and do whatever he tells me to do.)
I started rummaging through my purse to get my wallet but before I even got it completely out the girl had walked past my car. Two seconds after that, the light turned green. I was the first car at the light and there was a line of cars behind me. If you drive in Philly you know I had about .2 seconds to start driving before all hell broke loose behind me. As I drove through the light I literally started crying I was so upset. If I could have done a u-turn on the bridge and gotten back to her I would have. As it is after I calmed down a little I prayed. I said “Jesus, please let that woman be there tomorrow night. And please let me have the opportunity to give her the money.”
Yesterday the whole time I was at work I was thinking about this girl and continually praying that she would be at the light that night. When I left work I got my money out of my wallet and set it in my lap even though I had at least a half hour drive back into the city. As I pulled off RT 76 the light at the end of the exit was green and my heart jumped into my throat. Please God. Please. Then right as I got to the light…yellow! I slammed on my brakes probably infuriating the person behind me but I didn’t care. I looked around and sure enough from the under the overpass to my left here came the same woman from the night before! I rolled my window down (not all the way mom don’t panic) and gave her everything that was in my wallet. We made eye contact as our fingers touched and from somewhere within me these words came out of mouth. “I saw you here last night. I prayed I’d see you tonight. I know Jesus wanted me to see you.” She just nodded her head and moved on but I rolled up my window feeling so hopeful.
The money I gave that girl was not enough to get her out of poverty. What I said probably wasn’t enough to make her interested in a relationship with Christ. I didn’t give her one of the cards with an invitation to my church on it that was also in my wallet. But you know what? None of that mattered. I had seen in action how to break out of frozen fear and apathy; help the person right in front of you. We tend to go through our daily lives with our heads down and our earphones in and we can walk right past a person we could tangibly help. I pray that God will help me lift my head and open my eyes to the people I walk by every day that I could help in some way. This doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do for those that are far away. We should donate time and money to international relief efforts. But sometimes the best way to re-energize yourself is to remember the words of Jesus when he was asked what the was the greatest commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself” Who is our neighbor? For me it was that woman. For you it might be the person you always sit next to on the bus, or the person who has the cubicle next to you. Just be open to God and I promise he will use you in ways you never even imagined. He did for me.
How do you deal with the overwhelming needs and sadness that we face everyday as a world? How do you break free from apathy and fear to help those around you even when you know you can’t solve the whole problem? Leave your thoughts in the comments!