Will you help me?
I have a friend I will call Ben.
Ben is a native of South America and currently lives much of his time in Spain, where most of his family lives. Ben is cultured, multi-lingual, kind, BYU-educated and a returned missionary. He is a mechanical engineer between jobs and is faithfully seeking employment opportunities worldwide. He is my friend and a good man.
He is also homeless.
I first met Ben at a church meeting several years ago and was impressed with his multi-faceted personality, and his intelligence. But the impression that lingered most was what I felt about his good heart. All my life I have been blessed with a “sense,” or discernment of being able to feel impressions about people’s emotions, their pains, their joys. My benevolence mechanisms were engaged that day in a way that lodged Ben into my heart. I can’t fully explain it or understand it, but this is something common in my life. I recall that day with great clarity.
One day while I was going through the church directory online I came across his name and noted that I hadn’t seen Ben for some time. I sent him an email introducing myself and asked about him: “how are you doing?” You know, the casual reaching out kind of thing Christ has asked us to do, that’s all. Ben returned my email shortly with one of his own that went something like this:
“Hi, do we know each other? Are you contacting me as an assignment from the church, or from the Bishop?”
I assured him that I was not assigned to contact him, that I felt impressed to reach out to him, nothing more or less. From that point we formed a bond and friendship that stretched from San Diego to Spain, until later that year when Ben was able to join my family and me for Thanksgiving dinner.
This is where it gets real.
Ben explained to me that he would be in town for the foreseeable future. He was looking for work, had no place to stay and was uncertain of the future. I don’t recall if he asked me for lodging; I believe I offered it to him, but what does it matter? We were currently remodeling our home and living down the street from it, but I made him the offer to stay at the house free of charge, an arrangement that worked out well for both of us. Ben made himself more than useful doing chores, running errands for us, yard work. Ben was our guest for about four months.
More than that, Ben became a close friend.
I live in Southern California, in an affluent suburb of North San Diego County. This is where Ben served his mission some thirty years ago. He knows many of the locals inside and out of the church. He married here, raised a family, made a career and served faithfully in the church and community.
As it turned out, Ben had known my father well. He had rented our attached guest house from dad years ago. He told me of his great love for my mother and father. Later he told me something that I already knew: that my father’s spirit is very strong in our home, the family home I grew up in, and where my family and I now live.
I consider Ben to be family.
Ben is in his middle 50s, and has accumulated material trappings, lost them, and would be content just to be self-reliant, but it has been hard finding meaningful employment. In his worldwide search for opportunity he has been compelled to seek the charity and kindness of others. He does this on a very low-key level, with no agenda beyond finding a temporary roof.
This is where the story chafes my Christian sensibilities.
Ben has told me another thing that I have come to realize through world travel, missionary service in China and other personal experiences: that, as a general rule, benevolence decreases in direct proportion to increased wealth.I have seen this in many different countries over my lifetime. Ben and I have discussed this more than a few times and it is a true and disturbing human trait, a trait that is not 100% consistent, but is all too common.
He tells me also that it is almost universal in America. He doesn’t have trouble finding people in other countries who offer him meals, housing or other tangible expressions of Christian love, but in America it is rare.
I hope I’m not the only one who finds this disturbing.
I recently wrote an article titled “The Burden of Love,” whose thesis is that Charity compels us to action, not lip service or weak gestures of compassion. True Christian charity requires the adherent to live the principles Christ lived, not only to admire them, believe them and talk of them.
One of the zip codes in our area has been cited in various business publications as being one of the most affluent areas of our country, and it is within these environs that my friend Ben struggles to find expressions of Christian love, even among our active Christian congregation, where many members have huge custom estates with many empty bedrooms and resources to rival some small countries.
I hesitate to judge others for reasons they don’t extend the hand of fellowship to Ben. Only God has that right. But it is disappointing to hear him speak of it — not in judgment, but as a reference to the hardship he is currently experiencing. I have wondered many times that if I were to fall into circumstances such as he currently deals with, would anybody take me in? Would my adult children be faced with the same indifference from their Christian neighbors?
How can this be reconciled with a belief in Jesus Christ?
Each must balance their own ledger, each must answer to the Savior for himself. But when my dear friend tells me that he will cross the border into Mexico because people there are sure to welcome him, I can’t help but to feel disappointment with those around us who enjoy an overwhelming abundance of material blessings yet are unwilling to compromise their personal privacy or comforts to simply open the door to a spare room or couch for one in need.
Charity expresses itself in a wide spectrum of actions, from financial offerings, to missionary work, and every other pure human interaction based in love. Christians certainly can’t claim an exclusive on charitable giving and living. The lack of charitable expression within a Christian community might be an indication of pride, or other unrighteousness; once again, it is the Lord’s to judge, not yours or mine. But when the open hand of charity is a rare commodity, it should be the basis for honest personal inventory.
How many of us firmly believe we would honor Christ as a guest in our home while we refuse to help a brother or sister in need? Do we not strive to act as Christ would have us act? If not, should we consider making a greater effort? Today it is Ben who seeks our help. It might be you or me tomorrow. What then?
I quote the hymn: “Have I done any good in the world today?”
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.
Peace and love to all.
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