The Summer Medical Institute (SMI) is a three week urban immersion missions experience. Students from all healthcare fields, including medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and podiatry live and work together in North Philadelphia, serving the community by doing door-to-door health screenings. Medical Campus Outreach (MCO) seeks to encourage students to maintain and grow their faith through the difficult years of medical training, and to encourage them to keep a vision for service when they are fully practicing healthcare professionals.
Several of our SMI 2015 participants will be sharing their experiences here over the next few weeks.
I have often wrestled with the issue of how to respond to people who come up to me on the street and ask for money. Initially, my suspicions are to wonder why they are asking me (a poor, soon-to-be med student) for money and what they are going to do with the money. I wonder how many people before me have passed them by without a second glance. I question their genuine need for the resource for which they are asking me.
Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, my SMI church group has started our outreaches near the intersection of Kensington and Somerset, a place where most people don’t end up by chance. The sidewalks are covered with a variety of people from many walks of life. Some are the most hard-working and honest people you will ever meet in your life; others the most deceptive and broken people you will meet. On the exterior, many look the same. By merely looking upon their physical appearance one simply cannot determine the character of the individual.
For the longest time, my heart struggled with the possibility of giving money to someone who would use it in a destructive way and, in essence, pull the wool over my eyes. The other day, a man came up to our team and asked for money. Before we could respond, a police officer standing nearby told the man to go away and to stop bothering people. The man cursed and swore at the police officer as he walked away. One of our team members walked outside and asked the man if we could buy him food to which he agreed. The man, who ended up being only 24 years old, told us that he was addicted to heroin despite having a good upbringing and education. He felt completely frustrated and hopeless in his current situation. He had tried drug rehab programs two or three times before, but he didn’t have the necessary support system for it to be successful.
As we talked with him, we expressed to him his need for Jesus and a restored relationship with God. The man replied that he had heard it all before and intellectually he knew the gospel. As I talked with the man further, he said: “I haven’t had a shower in so long. I smell. I walk onto the bus and people plug their noses and turn away.” I told him that I didn’t know what that was like; I don’t know what it means to have society look down upon me or forsake me. At that moment, God placed a verse on my heart that I had read earlier that day which I shared with him: “And those who know your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:10). I told him that even if society forsakes him, and drug rehab programs forsake him, and family forsakes him, God would never forsake him. If he turned to his Creator, Savior, and Sustainer, he would not be forsaken. The man didn’t seem ready at the time, but he left with another seed planted in his life and a new group of friends who are bringing him before his Father in prayer daily. We sent him away with a train token to return to his aunt’s house as he requested.
This would be a nice story if that is where it ended. Two days later while returning to our cars following the conclusion of another community outreach, we saw the exact same guy on the exact same street corner asking people for money. Apparently the warm meal and the train token had long since passed and was not what he needed for his road to recovery and restoration. Initially, I concluded that we had wasted our time and money on this man; he would just continue with the same lifestyle as though our encounter did not happen. Later that day God brought Matthew 25:31-46 to my mind along with the testimony of God’s miraculous work in the life of a former addict. The words of Christ in verse 40 spoke to me in this time of questioning: “…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (NKJV). Combined, these two truths redefined my perspective on reaching the needy. I am no longer plagued with the fear that I will be deceived in my outreach toward others. God revealed to me that He does not expect me to be cunningly observant, but rather faithful to that which He has called me.
The gospel of Christ isn’t centered on reading people’s hearts and motives with absolute certainty. The gospel of Christ, in fact, finds its center in proclaiming His good news, making disciples, and extending the love of Christ to all with grace. Though I do not want to make a foolish decision purposefully, never being tricked can become an idol of sorts. So, while I have some issues with simply handing out money to strangers, I choose to take advantage of the opportunities God grants me to extend his grace and love to others, even if that means I will be deceived at times. I choose to invest my time and resources into his work and not limit him in how I think he should work. You may call it deceived, tricked, misled, bamboozled, or some other term, but I am no longer enslaved to the avoidance of it, for the blood of Christ frees us from all other masters. This is why I am no longer afraid of getting the wool pulled over my eyes.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Benny Dixson. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org