Thursday, August 30, 2012

Christian charity to strangers: To help or not?

Yesterday about noon time, a man knocked on our office door. I opened the door and ask how may I attend to him. He did not know anyone of us for he was a stranger. 

He said that he wanted us to pray for him as he will be going for cataract operation this coming Monday (3 September). So our church manager directed us to use one of the rooms to pray for him. 

While in the room, as we were settling in, I asked him to tell me more about his condition and how may I pray. He said that he is a Christian and repeated about his cataract surgery, and showed me a set of paperwork as proof of what he said. I looked through those papers and everything seemed to be in place. There were doctors' official signature and hospital's stamp.

Then he went on to say that he has resigned from his job as a security guard due to his cataract, and he still short of $30 to pay some official fees that amounted to $150. Then he talked about his family is now in difficulty because he is not working anymore.

I told him that our church is very strict with financial aid, and will only go through official channel to help people. Therefore if we take up his case, we will make official reference to proper agency and ensure aid is delivered. So we will not hand out cash, especially to people we are not familiar with. He stared at me for a short while before saying that he just wanted someone to pray for him. And so we prayed.

After that, I asked him to tell me more about his church. He said that he has stopped attending his church due to personal issues. Then I asked him which church was he from. He replied, "Jesus Life Church."

"Jesus Life Church?" I reiterated to make sure I heard him right.

"No," he answered, "It is 'Jesus Lives Church'... It's a Methodist Church at Bukit Batok." I stared at him, waiting to hear more.

"It's true, I'm not lying. It's a Tamil (language) church at Bukit Batok. If you take bus 502, it's at the first stop around the corner."

I said, "Lourdsamy (his name), I'm not saying that you are lying, but I want to learn more about you."

We talked further for a short while before we shook hands and he left.

So the first thing that I did was to find out about 'Jesus Lives Methodist Church' at Bukit Batok area. I went to the website of the Methodist Church in Singapore to look for their list of churches. I couldn't find any church with that name. So I thought to myself, may be it is not a church but a preaching-point or community-ministry belonging to the Methodist. Or, may be it is a new one, and the list is not updated.

So I sent a message through the Methodist website asking if there is such church or ministry at Bukit Batok. Here is their reply:


I have a friend, David Ho, who serves at that preaching point. As far I know, it is not a Tamil ministry. Nonetheless, I sought for further confirmation asking if it is a Tamil ministry. They replied that it is not a Tamil ministry.

Lourdsamy was lying...

Those who work in churches as pastor or lay worker are familiar with such encounter. Lourdsamy was not the first one. We have strangers coming to us asking for various help. So far, the genuine ones are usually people whom we know, those who are part of the church.

There are people who hop around churches telling all sort of stories to manipulate Christians' sympathy. These folks know that Christians are called to attend to those, including strangers, who are in difficulty (Matthew 25:34-40). And if Christians or churches refrain from helping them, we are called hypocrites. If we help without reserve, I am not sure if that is really 'help' as it encourages these folks to continue going around lying to solicit money. 

It is almost a daily affair for churches to deal with matter of this nature. Have you come across such situation before? How did you deal with it?

9 comments:

reasonable said...

The following saying atributed to Jesus came to my mind:

"Give to EVERYONE who asks of you, and WHOEVER takes away what is yours, do not demand it back." (Luke 6.30, with a similar one in Matt 5.42, both occur within the context of loving one's enemies)

Radical Giving - Supported perhaps by a Theology of Radical Generosity?


James said...

Reasonable:

Do you think Luke 6:30 and Matt 5:42 should be used in this context?

I once was asked by a total to loan him 80,000 from the church funds because he was in debts. He promised to pay within two years. What do you think I should do?

reasonable said...

Hi James,

Here is my accurate answer to you qeustion:

I think you should do in accordance to your deepest and honest conviction, and in accordance to your interpretation of whatever (be it textual and non-textual) that you believe is relevant to your situation.

On another matter: Radical is usually not really that radical after our dilution. Radical is really radical when it contradicts the commonsense of the majority.

Ravi Philemon said...

Lourdesamy may have not known that Jesus Lives Church is a methodist church, but he was no liar.

There is a Tamil church called Jesus LIves Church in Bukit Batok (Link: http://www.jesuslives.org.sg/connect)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ravi Philemon,

I think you meant to say that Lourdsamy may not know that Jesus Lives Church is NOT a Methodist Church.

The fact that he insisted that it was a Methodist Church has proved the point that he was a liar. If he was once a member of the church, as he had presented himself to be, then it is unlikely that he wouldn't know that his church was not a Methodist Church.

Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss said...

Sze Zeng - According to your account, this Lourdesamy, a stranger came to your church office, lied through his teeth about his personal circumstances, in order to get $30 from your church. Suspecting he was not truthful, you did not succumb to offering him money. Subsequently, you successfully nailed his lie (i.e. proved him to be a liar). You then blogged about your experience with him, perhaps to encourage other Christians to follow your example? Are you feeling glad that you saw through Lourdesamy's pretext and that $30 of your church funds is still intact and not wasted on an unworthy cause? From my perspective as a reader of your account, you were given an opportunity to show Christian charity, but all you did was to show pride and to judge another sinner. What you did to Lourdesamy (be he a liar or a truth-teller) is nothing to be proud of. I do not know which is worse: to have wasted an opportunity to show love or to blog about having done such a thing. Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss

Sze Zeng said...

Thank you Jeannette and others for sharing your thoughts. I realized that I can't engage the points you made here in the comment section. So I've decided to write a post to clarify.

See you all there: http://szezeng.blogspot.sg/2012/09/clarifying-christian-charity.html

Ravi Philemon said...

No, I meant to say 'Lourdesamy may have not known that Jesus Lives Church is a methodist church, but he was no liar.'

Some simple people are not so hung up on denominations and don't ask about church denominations. They also drop out of church for one reason or another.

The fact is, he came to you for help and you judged him a liar. I can only hope that you're not using the New Covenant as a Law book like a Pharisee; and can only pray for the Holy Spirit to continue convicting you and guide on this issue.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ravi,

Whether people are "hung up" on denominations or not has nothing to do with the case where someone insists his church to belong to certain denomination, as far as I can see.

In Lourdesamy's case, he insisted that his church was a Methodist church. This shows that at the very least, he knew that Methodist is a denomination, and his church belongs to it (which of course is not the case).

Thank you for praying for me. On your part, I could just wish that you can take the first step to understand the complicated issues underlying Christianity, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics before engaging on such matters.