Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where's the Sprite?

That was my question to Pedro this morning after finding our newly opened bottle of soda missing from the refrigerator. Perhaps I even said it with a hint of accusation since I knew he was the last one to bed the night before and I assumed he drank it while working on his lesson plans for Sunday. But instead he asked, "Didn't you hear the doorbell last night?" I hadn't. Apparently it rang around quarter to eleven but (surprisingly) I was already asleep by then.

Pedro said the "car wash guy" had come by with a story that the police had burned his stuff while he was out looking for work during the day. Explanation: The "car wash guy" walks around different neighborhoods daily ringing doorbells and offering to wash cars for the equivalent of $2-$3 US dollars. We don't know where he lives but his story would indicate that he is one of Iquique's many homeless people who set up shelter around the city's beaches, parks or few unoccupied terrains.

While it's not unusual for this man - and several others - to stop by our house each week, the timing was out of the ordinary and Pedro felt his story was most likely true. Discerning fact from fiction is always a challenge, and this time our caller was asking for money to rent a room for the night. Pedro reminded him that our commitment is never to give away money, though we will provide food and/or a job if we are able. So in the dark and an hour before midnight, our car was washed and this man received his wages, a sandwich ... and half a bottle of Sprite.

I'm thankful that Pedro was able to respond and I hope that the little we provided was of help to this man. To be honest, meeting the needs of strangers at our door is not my favorite thing. And it isn't because we aren't willing to help but because - as I mentioned before - we can't always distinguish if the need is genuine. We know of another missionary who feels that those within our church should receive first priority as far as physical help and that is how he filters his decisions when people come knocking at his door. We know as well that both in Santiago and here in Iquique, the person we hired for weekly household help felt that we shouldn't give to many of those who stopped by because they appeared perfectly fit for work and to do so would only enable their begging.

It's a challenge. Removing the monetary aspect helps, because if a person becomes irate or simply huffs and puffs when we refuse cash, we can tell where their priority lies. But still, it is uncomfortable. I wonder if I have any blog readers who deal with this as well? I'd love to hear some thoughts on how others respond in these situations.


Anna and David said...

We deal with the same thing. We never give money. We always give food or clothing, but we never give anything in new packaging, because the truth is that most of those who stop by are drug addicts and they will sell anything in a new package (like rice or sugar). As you said, once you offer someone food, they quickly reveal their intentions by either acting grateful, or getting annoyed that they aren't getting money. We now know 90% of the people who ask for things, since our neighborhood isn't that big, and I can tell you for a fact that every single one who has asked for money, is a drug addict. Even the car washer.

Amanda said...

We did the same in ConcepciĆ³n and Santiago. I would carry snacks for my kids in my backpack everywhere, and would always try to have extras. If I was sitting in the park feeding my kids, I can feed a stranger who asks for help, too. Once we moved to the apartment in Santiago, we didn't deal with this as often because the conserje ran folks away. But we never gave money, never ever.