Rob and I have moved down to a place on the coast here in Cambodia called Sihanoukville. There is a small YWAM initiative here that Rob has worked with in the past. We’re set to meet with the leader tomorrow.
It’s amazing the growth that’s happened in just 2 years since I was here last. What was just a few restaurants lining the beach has become many more of the same. In Cambodian culture, it’s common when one merchant starts a business and enjoys some level of success, for others do the same thing.. the exact same thing. They even take pictures of the other outfit and duplicate it to a T. There is no attempt to try to think of something new or give and old idea a new spin.
There are lots of vendors making passes back and forth on the beach selling hand made bracelets, fireworks, and offering manicures. It’s low season now because of the blistering heat and soon to come, Monsoon rains. That means low numbers of tourists but still the same number of “touts” and vendors selling (or more like pushing) their products. If you sit at a cafe or walk down the road, people never stop coming or shouting “tuk tuk!” (taxi) at you. It’s literally endless. The local cafe owners tolerate it because the vendors are fellow-Cambodians, so they figure they might as well let them give it a shot with the tourists (us).
Along with them come people begging for money. They idle up slowly, usually elderly or handicapped in some way and stand or sit in the direction you’re looking and mutter something over and over and over and over. Many will stay for quite a while before they move on. If you give a little cash, the traffic increases. When you first come to town, you’re struck by them. You think of Jesus and try to think of what he might do. You ask the Spirit for wisdom. Many things come to mind from the word. First thing I thought was this one…
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
Pretty straight-forward. I’m selfish and I like rewards, so let’s be kind to the poor!
Well, how is one “kind”? Does that mean give money?
2 years ago here, I agonized over this woman carrying a baby. She stood in front of our table for a long time with a hand out, super filthy dirty and her baby crying. She was quietly whispering, “Please help me. Help my baby.” I sat there beside this busy street eating a meal with a team of Americans and felt worse with every bite. How could I sit here with all my western resources eating while she suffered? I thought of my food turning to worms in my stomach as I ignored her. Finally, I gave in and handed her a couple dollars. The instant I did, she walked to a near-by parking lot, handed the money to a nicely dressed man talking on a cell phone standing next to a nice SUV, then came back and went to the next restaurant. What an idiot I was. I stopped giving out money after that.
We’ve carried cookies for kids and bought meals for people to avoid the pitfalls of handing out cold hard cash. BUT one time I was handing out cookies to kids at a train station in India and it created such a frenzy, an older man came running over and yelled to me, “…stop it! You’re creating problems for us!”
What are the other options?
One time, Peter and John ran into a lame man who asked them for money at the temple. Peter responded with this…
“…Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Should Rob and I try that?
Here’s another one that talks about responding to need with material possessions…
“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
John is probably talking about fellow-believers here, but since I know God has pity on me, it follows that I would want to pass it along.
Maybe the best thing is a mix. Give out cookies and a card saying, “Jesus loves you and died for your sins,” written in Khmer. We’ll figure out something practical…
Say what you can, pray what you can, do what you can, give what you can… something like that. Faith in action…