I’ve had some interesting experiences since I’ve been ordained, many of which have involved people in need (or who claimed to be in need) of assistance. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt to folks, and to follow the injunction to give to any who begs from you (Luke 6:30). At the same time, good stewarship means that I–or anyone else–can’t just go around enabling people to lie or steal.
In light of the above, several weeks ago I was at a local restaurant when someone approached me in the parking lot. The man explained that he and his wife were from Pensacola Fla and were stranded in the area, and needed X amount of money to get gas/have their van fixed (I can’t remember which). Now, being the son of a retired Highway Patrolman, I know that most of these sorts of stories are just that–fictions concocted to get money out of folks. However, on the off chance that the story was honest, and because I always tell people that if they are lying the burden is on them, I went ahead and gave the man the money he needed, plus a little extra for some lunch. Fast forward two weeks. I was back in the parking lot of the same local restaurant and I see the same man–keep in mind he’s told me he was from Fla–in the parking lot walking up to people asking for money. I watched him walk purposefully around the lot and speak to an older man in his truck. When I saw what scammer was doing, I got out and walked over, but not before the older man had turned him down and the scammer had moved on across the lot. When I got to the truck, I asked the older man if the guy had told him he was from Fla and needed help etc… Sure enough, the guy was telling the same story. Since this restaurant is in a fairly busy area, I’m certain he was doing pretty well for himself going from lot to lot with his tale. After talking to the older man for a few minutes, he suggested calling a local law enforcement agency. I only thought about it for a moment–I gave them a call and a description of Mr. Scam Artist, as well as telling them which direction he left in. I have no idea whether they caught him or not, but I at least felt like I’d done my part to prevent scammers from taking assistence out of the hands of those who actually need it, and are honest about it.
During my first summer at St. Francis a gentleman called my cell phone one day while I was waiting in the lounge of a local Toyota dealership waiting for my truck to be fixed. “Pastor” he said when I picked up, “I wanted to talk to you about something. One of my mom’s friends goes to your church and I got your number from her. What I’m wondering is, is it wrong for a man to feel like he should take his own life?” I proceeded to talk to him for a half hour, then for about another hour later in the morning about the various problems in his life, his feelings of failure, sadness at being a bad father etc… but was unable to go see him in person because my truck was in the shop and I had no transportation. Later the same day I got a call from the Diocesan office indicating that this guy had shown up there asking for assitance and talked with one of the Canons, who had then suggested that he contact me, once he mentioned what area he lived in. Well, I worked with the guy a bit; he said he wanted a job, so I came up with something for him to do around the Church. When I paid him, he asked me to make the check out to his land lord to help with his rent. Later on, his “land lord” called to thank me–lo and behold he sounded exactly like the man who was supposedly his tenent. In fact, I even said as much when he first called, referring to him by the “tenent’s” name before he told me he was actually the “land lord.” The funny thing is, about two minutes after I got off the phone with the “land lord” the original guy calls back, wanting to know if the “land lord” had called. Of course, “they” were calling from the same number. Not only that, but I had a note the guy had given me to proove something about a medical problem–guess whose hand-writting mached the “land lord’s” signiture on the back of the cleared check when it came back from the bank? You got it. The land lord and Mr. Suicidal were one and the same. But that’s not the best part. The best part is that about four months ago, I got a phone call, “Hello” I said as I picked up. “Pastor, I was just wondering if it’s wrong for somebody to think about taking their own life…” Oh Brother. Same voice, same number (I keep records), using a different name–denied we had ever spoken.
There is such a thing as going to the same well once too often.