At nearly every traffic light in Johannesburg, South Africa, drivers will encounter beggars. During apartheid, there were none of them; the government banned anything that seemed like poverty or suffering. As kids, we never knew of the suffering of millions outside our tiny society.
After apartheid fell, beggars have been pouring into the city on a daily basis, holding clumsy cardboard signs written with their tales of woe. They mention how many children they have, how old they are and that they have talents that can be used. Their children, clutching empty tin cups, dodge cars on busy streets.
At the beginning, it was black people alone who begged. Now, the Rainbow Nation is represented on the poverty scale ,too, as more and more white beggars pop up, proving we are all equal. They are South Africans mostly, but more and more foreigners are joining in to siphon wealth off the rich “Joburgers.” At one stage, it was males only, but now we know that poverty is not sexist.
To be honest, these individuals would irritate me. This has been decreasing, but it’s still there. I’d be lying to say that I’m wholly indifferent to them. Sometimes, I was irritated because I was too poor, too stingy or too lazy to help. Other times, I was bothered because I was too rich or too generous or too hard working to give. They challenged me, and that agitated me.
It took me a while to accept this as a normal sinful attitude that would take me a lifetime on which to work.
Every morning on the way to work, I would drive past the same beggars, and they never recognized me from the week, day or hour before. I felt angry for not being remembered or noticed after feeding their inexhaustible hungers.
The process became increasingly regular as more traffic lights housed these sufferers, so I brought up the subject with most of my friends. Both the Christians and the non-Christians agreed it was a waste of time, money and effort to give anything to these people. They’re just going to buy drinks, they would tell me, or, I once made food for one of those people, and they threw it in the garbage, or the famous, Why don’t they just get a job?
But those arguments didn’t—and don’t—help the situation or me. I couldn’t ignore these recurrent strangers. How could I drive to a church or to work or to visit friends, listening and talking about grace but ignoring all the opportunities to show it on the road there and back? Hadn’t the Boss said that whoever we bless is an ambassador of Him—actually is Him?
So, I prayed for some guidance, and the answer didn’t take long to come. It came in the slogan: Just Do It. Peter wrote we should add to faith goodness. This means: First, believe. Second, just do it. It’s the exact opposite of Pharisaic philosophy, which tells you that you need to know something unique before you go out and do good to others. We must just do it and be willing to learn from both our failures and our successes.
So, I gave. When I didn’t have money, I gave food, and when I didn’t have food, I gave words.
Once, I was so poor I took some eggs out of the refrigerator and gave them to a guy standing on the roadside, desperately waiting for work. I think he threw them away. I don’t remember. As I just did it, I learned important lessons. This follows Peter again: Knowledge comes after goodness.
Another painful lesson I remember is the one time I gave a bagful of lemons to a man sleeping on the sidewalk. I said, “Here you go.” He asked me what they were, and I told him, “Lemons.” He made a sour face and waved his hand to say, “No thanks!” It hurt then, and it would hurt now. Zeal must be tempered by wisdom.
Yet as I continued and gave to the point where it had become a difficult and uncomfortable hobby, I found my normal life was gaining so much more meaning. Everything was purposeful; everything had a plan.
I turned my sights to the working environment. I knew preaching in the workplace was a dangerous, semi-legal hobby, so I became subtle verbally, and shouted out loud non-verbally.
I bought a box of peaches from a vendor at a traffic light I regularly passed by. I bought 24, and they cost me R20, which is about $3. I handed them out silently at work, everyone taking one—some taking seconds. I distributed the fruit from the manager to grunts who typed all day next to me, and was subtly equalizing everyone. I didn’t know this was going on at the time, but now, with the benefit of looking back, I could see God’s tactics and His overall strategies at work.
One day, while driving my normal route home, I realized that this giving had become systematic (but not easier), so I prayed. I desperately wanted to know if these random acts of kindness—as I was now calling them—had any effect on the 40-million-and-growing inhabitants of South Africa.
A Word came to me like bread from the sky and fed me. It is feeding me still: “Even a single grain of salt dropped into still water causes ripples to the ends.” The salt was the good works; the water is the masses of people connected to one another.
We are purchased carriers. Our wallet is not our own. Our food is not our own. Our words are not our own. If the money is misused, it is not our problem—it’s not our money. If the sandwiches are thrown away, it is not our problem—it’s not our bread. If the words are ignored or spat back to us, it is not our problem—they’re not our words.
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