After a decade of squeezing onto the subway, standing in the cold hailing cabs, we purchased a Buick van. After three months of study, I received my license making me an official member of the insanity club called “Beijing Motorist.” With full control of my 6-foot wide interior, I enjoyed praise music flowing out the speakers and sips of hot coffee as I dodged pedestrians and electric bikes. Despite the traffic, it felt good to have privacy on my daily 45-minute commute.
It dawned on me one day, that my response to the beggars had shifted somewhat after becoming a Beijing motorist. Now, instead of walking towards them on the sidewalk, I sped by them in my van. Instead of checking my coat pocket for loose change, I had my window rolled up tight. The needy became easy to ignore, as I would say to myself—
“They shouldn’t be in the middle of the road! Don’t they know they’re going to cause an accident!”
Shielding myself from the needs of others seemed to lock in a hardness that was changing me. At my lowest point, while driving into the church office on a weekday, I started listening to a podcast sermon about compassion for the homeless.
As I stopped at a busy intersection I heard tapping on my window. There stood a young mom holding an infant. One of my beggar rules was to not give to adults using children to beg. So I raised my hand up gesturing a firm “No!” The lady stepped back. The light changed. I hit the gas. As I glanced at the fuel gauge I realized I was just about out of gas. This forced me to make a U-turn to the nearest gas station in order to ensure I would make it to the office.
Sitting at the gas pump I thought about the homeless sermon. So many of our cities are filled with people in need. I was feeling like the religious person in the story of the Good Samaritan who quickly rushed by the one in need. Only I was even a step lower, I was listening to a message compassion while ignoring the knock at my window. I asked the Lord to forgive me. “God, could you give me a second chance?”
As I got back on my original route, who should be there at the intersection, but the same mother with her small child. The light was red. I stopped and she approached my window. She didn’t have time to tap my window. I rolled it down as soon as I saw her coming. The Lord was giving me my second chance and I put some Chinese dollars in her hand.
In my comfort and safety, God had sent a reminder of just how needy His world really is.
“ Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.” Acts 3:2
A good friend Greg Smith was preaching on this passage, and I wrote in the margins of my Bible;
“Just when we want Beautiful, God places a beggar in the path.”
The scriptures go on to describe what Peter and John did. They saw beauty in the beggar as being more grand than the beauty of the gate. Their eyes made contact, they had a conversation, and they offered the lame man healing in Jesus name. God always seems to be present when we focus on the needs of others. The weak are made strong. Sadness turns to joy. Despair gives way to hope.
“ Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God” Acts 10:4