Last night while I was eating supper an unsaved family from down the street came by and asked if I had any food. This is actually normal since I give out things like cold water, juice, or an occasional peanut butter and Jelly sandwich. It just so happens last night I was almost out of peanut butter so nothing could be offered (this family also comes by asking for things quite often so I have to be careful about giving away food too often, otherwise they would rely on me for it every day).
Once they found out there would be no sandwich we entered in to a “bartering stage” that ended with my giving them two slices of white bread and glasses of cold water.
Once they were finished with the bread one of the daughters asked me for laundry powder for washing, and money for a candle since it was dark outside. When I refused she smiled and said “Pastor John doesn’t the Bible tell you to share!” This girl was just giving me a hard time of course because they were sitting on my porch, eating my bread, and drinking my water!
This experience illustrates one of my greatest challenges in Barrouaille, and one on almost every mission field. You will always find plenty of people in need of help…and if your American in many cases they will come to you for that help. An obvious reason for this is what we call poor in the US is incredibly rich compared to the poor in that Country (especially when you factor in the stronger American dollar), but there’s also a compassion rising up in us that wants to help those in need.
That compassion is a very good thing that I believe is placed within our hearts by God. But we must make sure it leads to hospitality (meeting basic needs, and giving a greater gift occasionally) instead of enabling (meeting every need that they come to you with).
Please understand I’m not discrediting the needs of the people. I have no doubt the family last night truly needed some washing powder, and a candle so they could see their way home. But if I met every one of their needs then my porch would be filled with people the next day demanding their candle and soap powder.
A Neighbor down the street who migrated from England flew some of her friends to Barrouaille earlier this year for a few weeks. During that time those friends seeing the great need began buying things like flip-flops and giving them out to the particularly needy. Since then people have constantly been coming to her porch months later ringing the bell and asking for their pair of flip-flops. It’s gotten to the point where she refuses to come to the door anymore, and told me in a way she HATES the island because of the people constantly coming to get free things.
The truly sad thing is her friends were honestly trying to help by giving out gifts in love. However they became enablers (people who would not say no) instead of offering hospitality (meeting a small need occasionally) so now the people see her as that enabler.
Okay so what is the difference between hospitality and enabling?
- Hospitality offers what they truly need: one of the most common requests is for money so a person can buy food (usually meaning alcohol) I instead invite them to my home for a glass of water and peanut-butter sandwich
- Hospitality gives a VERY small amount of money sometimes ($1 or $2), and remembers who you give that money to (the family last night got $2 last Friday which is why I didn’t do more to help them more)
- Hospitality understands exactly what they are asking for before agreeing: I had a lady last night who asked me to buy “milk for her baby” (which she conveniently had nearby) I was confused as to why she wanted me to buy it instead of giving her some money so I continued asking questions till she told me the milk cost $50.
- Hospitality has rules: If I give someone money then they won’t receive any thing else for a week as a general rule (I usually break this, but they won’t get money twice a week)
Now this may seem a bit harsh considering the great need I’m surrounded by, but hospitality also offers things to people much more precious than money
- A cool spot on the porch and a cold drink on a hot afternoon
- A listening ear
- Conversations that explain to them the Gospel of Christ, Bible stories, and a Christian testimony
- A Church family that together can meet their most pressing needs
- Bible studies that help them grow into spiritual maturity
- Outreach ministries of the Church that minister to their deeper needs (counseling, tutoring and homework help)
- And eventually the strength to go meet their own needs instead of relying on someone else
Do I enjoy sending away people who are in need? Of course not! But I take comfort in the fact that these unloving actions create some much-needed boundaries in the relationship.