|Print | Back||May 25, 2012|
by Jeff Lindsay
Atlanta is a great city for meeting new people. I used to live there, in the suburb of Tucker, and love the city and the people. But it has its share of trouble and desperation.
One quick way to meet people in trouble in Atlanta and in most major cities is to put on a dark suit, smile, and walk leisurely through a downtown region. I did this in early 2010, just a few blocks east of Peachtree Street, while walking between the inexpensive hotel where I was staying and the conference I was attending at a glamorous Peachtree Street hotel.
There were a number of people friendly enough to walk next to me and begin talking. Some told me of their hardships, some simply blurted out their desire for cash, and one seemed sincerely interested in just talking.
My first new acquaintance was a man named Moses. As I stepped out of the luxurious Peachtree hotel and onto the street behind it, he rushed across the street to walk next to me. He complimented me on my nice suit and said I looked like a lawyer. No, I told him, but I am a patent agent. "I'm not sure if looking like a lawyer is a good thing," I added.
He explained he meant it as a compliment. He was fairly eloquent, polite, but also determined. He began telling me of his plight. He had been thrown into prison for defending his daughter - he had hurt a man (shot? stabbed? I think he said how but I'm not sure) that had attacked or was attacking his daughter - and now was in need of money to get started again.
He had a "prison card" with him that presumably was supposed to engender respect. He offered to show it to me twice, maybe three times, to corroborate his story.
Why did he think that having a prison card would make me more interested in donating? He kept walking with me and frankly made me nervous as we began heading down a quiet street together. I didn't trust him. He didn't look like a victim or somebody just down on his luck. I didn't like his smooth talking and his pitch for money.
I judged him to be a hustler and didn't want to be escorted any further. I stopped, looked him in the eye as we stood before the entrance to another hotel where I wasn't staying, and told him, "I'll have to pass. No thank you."
He tried again, observing that this hotel where I was (presumably) staying looked really nice and that I must be able to afford a lot to be able to stay there. It was a good try, but I was firm. "No, thank you."
He then thanked me for showing him the respect of looking him in the eye and talking to him. I guess he didn't get even that much very often. We shook hands and he turned away briskly. I then turned to go into the door that proved to be locked. I felt a little foolish about my failed exit from the scene. I hadn't wanted him to know the real hotel where I was staying, and so had pretended that I was going into this one.
I soon returned to my own hotel and contemplated what had happened. I was still irritated by his approach. Hustlers elicit a different emotional reaction from me from those who seem truly needy. That experience set the tone for my next encounters with two other beggars on the street the next morning: hustlers, con artists, crooks - leave me alone.
During a lunch break when I went back to my hotel, I took a few moments for scripture study and flipped open the Bible in the room to Matthew 18, where I read these verses:
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea….
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Ouch. I had just ignored and neglected a fellow child of God. A child of God, a hungry lost sheep, had sought my help, and I had walked away from him.
I looked out over the city from my hotel room and pondered all my brothers and sisters there in need, and how I enough money that I could afford to give some away. I felt that I had let Moses down and felt ashamed. I turned to the Lord in prayer and asked for forgiveness, and asked for help that I might find Moses again and make up for my prior sin of neglect, selfishness, and fear.
This began my quest to find Moses again and do something to help him out.
I had an emotional prayer where I asked the Lord to forgive me and to help me find Moses again. This time I would help him. I had some $20 bills in my wallet ready to help those in need.
I went back onto the street and walked up and down looking for Moses. No sign. But I did see a homeless man, a young man, maybe about 25, sleeping on a bench. I went over, tapped him, and gave him a $20 bill and chatted. I ended up giving him a copy of The Book of Mormon, too, since he expressed interest in reading.
I felt great, or at least somewhat better. But I was still looking for Moses. I would soon meet and try to help another homeless person. I was on a roll and was feeling better about myself. Still, no Moses.
The next morning, still looking for Moses, I felt inspired to take a different route. I knew there was something waiting for me - I just felt it.
Almost on cue as I walked by the hotel I had tried to enter after denying help to Moses, a homeless man stepped out from behind a structure and into my path. He asked for help and we began a conversation. I gladly gave him $20. Then, almost as an afterthought, I said, "Now you aren't going to spend that on liquor, are you? Because I'm not giving you money for liquor." "Oh, no sir. Just crack cocaine," he said with a big but almost toothless grin, the sad dental state that serious drug abuse often brings.
I had just bought crack cocaine one of God's children. Smart move. I tried talking him out of that, and he nodded his head, smiled, and walked away quickly. Straight to the local dealer, no doubt.
My emotion-laden quest to find Moses took me to one of his brothers suffering in chains of captivity. I strengthened his chains with my foolish donation. This was sobering.
Then I realized: blessing the lives of God's children is far more complicated than just handing out money. Money can bless or it can destroy. Each individual has individual needs. That's why we need the Spirit - and inspired welfare programs that address the needs of individuals.
I didn't find Moses, but I found something. New questions, new doubts, new resolve. Someday, I hope to find Moses again, but next time, perhaps with a touch more insight about how to help him, whoever he is. One thing is for sure: he is a child of God, a lost sheep who needs someone to find him, soon.
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