The Shell station on the corner of 9th street and I-30 access road in downtown Little Rock is not one of my favorite places to stop at night but I had to use the bathroom and knew if I didn't stop for gas there I would likely be walking several miles to the nearest gas station. I looked around and pulled up to a pump; everything seemed to be clear this time so I get out, lock my door and go inside to the restroom. Before going back outside, I stop at the register and pay for $14 in gas, all of the cash I had on me. This was on purpose, remembering the last time I stopped at the gas station.
"Nice jacket, can I have it?" a man asks me as he approaches me next to my car. In my head: "Is he serious? You know, it is cold out here, maybe he does need it." It wasn't long before he said, "just kidding." Did my surprise show on my face? Regardless, he continued talking to me. "I'm from Missouri and I don't have any place to go. The Mission only lets you stay one night. I tried to steal some vienna sausages earlier but I got caught. Can you spare any change, even a dime would help." In my mind: "There are multiple shelters in Little Rock and I don't think that any of them have a one-night policy. And if you were caught trying to steal, how are you standing here?" What I said, "I just spent my last cash to buy gas. Let me finish pumping and I will go inside and buy you something to eat." I place the nozzle in my tank and begin (or think I begin) pumping gas and notice by this time a second person is standing five or six feet behind me. At this point, I have become nervous. The first guy continues, "Thats. OK, I am meeting a friend and hes got some KFC for us..." I realize I haven't flipped the gas pump on and say, "I guess this works better when you turn it on," I say to the two of them with a slight laugh. The second guy agrees. The first continues, "But you could buy me a pack of Marlbro cigarettes. I could sell them for 50 cents a piece and make a little bit of money."
"I'm not going to buy the cigarettes," I tell him. "I'll buy you something to eat but no cigarettes. The first man continues to try and convince me, but I'm not giving in on it. Again in my mind: "What if I did buy these for him and he sells them to a minor? Plus, you probably have to have a license to sell cigarettes and thats just going to get you in more trouble." The second guy starts talking and telling me how he had been in prison and liked it there becasue all the white people kept their distance. "All I had to do is show them this," he said as he pulled the front of his shirt up to reveal a scar.
It is eventually the second man who takes me up on the food and he begins to explain that he wants one of the hot jack links sausages being very specific. "You might want to come in with me," I tell him. He sends the first person in with me who wasn't much help in choosing the correct one and then he picks up a bag of chips for himself. At the register he begins pointing to the newspaper and talking to me again as I try to run my credit card completely blocking out the cashier who was apparently asking, "debit or credit?" The man continues talking and asks me what I think about the Grand Jury's decision in Ferguson. At that point I am thankful I can honestly say I have purposely remained ignorant on that current event. Yes, I know it was about excesive force by law enforcement, but the remainder of the case I have remained out of the loop on. That is one news quiz I am happy to fail tonight as I could answer that I hadn't been following the story and couldn't answer the question.
We walk out of the store and I hand him the bag of chips and speed up to hand the other guy the sausage. "Only one?" he questions. "I'll take one." I then head toward my car, wanting to get in as soon as possible. "I love you brother," the second man shouted as I opened the door. "Likewise," I yell back.
Now, safely at home I am left to ponder...did I do the right thing(s)?
- I've been reading a book, "How to help the poor without hurting them or yourself." One of the main points it makes is that by simply giving 'handouts' we are actually making things worse for them and even ourselves. Instead we should work alongside them, building relations and helping them grow to be self-sufficient. What kind of harm might my buying the food have caused?
- Matthew 5:40, 42 says, "And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well...Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Should I have immediately taken my jacket off and given it to him? What might God have done if I had?
- Was my fear/nervousness obvious? When the second person approached and stood behind me, I have to admit my thoughts were going toward, "I really hope I don't get stabbed/robbed." And having these thoughts made me wonder, "Am I being judegemental?" Forgive me.