From a distance he seems to fit in just like anyone else. His slightly faded blue jeans were accentuated by a light green sweater rolled up at the sleeves. A white undershirt broke the neckline of his sweater, and tan hiking shoes finished off his outfit. He even took the time to brush his curly brown hair which glistened with some type of gel. He was one of those middle-age-men who had no hair on the top of his head, so he grew out the sides to make up for it. A used yet stylish pair of sunglasses hung from the neck of his sweater, and from across the room he seemed like everyone else.

After surveying the room, I decided to get a cup of coffee, and thats when I realized something was different. It had nothing to do with the coffee. The way he grabbed the styrofoam cup and pulled down the lever on the urn reinforced the fact that he fit in. When I approached the coffee urn, however, I noticed a smell. This particular smell was very unique, and told a very long and deeply moving story. A potent combination of alcohol mixed with several months without a shower differentiated this man from all the others. His faded jeans where not a stylish feature, but the result of spending weeks outside. The glistening of his hair was not gel, but the accumulation of greese that comes from several weeks without a shower. The stylish glasses where legitimate, but only because he found them in a trash can. It’s funny how valuable someones trash can be to the right person.

How do you know when to help a homeless person? If you give them cash, will they use it to buy food or alcohol? Can you trust the sign that says “Homeless: God Bless You!” Or maybe the one that says, “need food for my family: anything helps.” Or maybe the veteran in a wheelchair, or the guy trying to get home to his kids. How do we know when they are telling us the truth? What stories are real and not just fabricated ways to manipulate people?

I find it nearly impossible to differentiate between someone on the street who will use a gift well and someone who will use it to continue a dangerous addiction. Because I can’t tell the difference, I never know who to help and who to pass by. Normally that translates into ignoring my conscience and walking bye with my head down. Verses like, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17) really challenge me, but I’m trying to balance them with things like being a wise steward as found in Proverbs. But there is still one point that sticks in my mind and bothers my heart: Regardless of why they are on the street, they are all broken in some way just like me. Maybe their brokenness comes out in the way they lie to people about the money they panhandle, but it’s still a brokenness that Jesus can heal.

We may not always figure out the best thing to do, but taking time to listen is a great first step. The second step is to send them to a place that helps them heal holistically. A place that meets their physical and spiritual needs. A place like a Rescue Mission.

The 10 Days Without Furniture Challenge: research your local rescue mission and donate furniture/funds, volunteer for a day, or figure out another way to get involved. By knowing about your local rescue mission and knowing where they are located, you’re preparing yourself to help the homeless and others in need.

Why is it so hard to know when to help someone on the street? You may comment below…

* picture borrowed from: http://robinwoodchurch.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/homeless.jpg it was so hilarious I had to use it!

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