My husband and I “discuss” this subject quite a bit. You’re familiar with it, I am sure. A person stands on a street corner or intersection with a cardboard sign indicating they are hungry, broke, homeless, or all three. The penmanship on the sign is usually good and is it done with a marker.
We discuss this a lot because my husband always wants to stop and give them money. We don’t carry much cash, but if we have any on us, my husband will give it to the person with the sign.
I don’t like it. It makes me nervous, particularly when I see the same person in the same spot more than once. I have tried to convince my husband that we should make some little cards with phone numbers of local shelters and churches and hand these out instead of money.
We have also discussed that some of these people may be driven to these intersections by someone else – maybe a slave owner – and forced to collect money and turn it in at the end of the day. I hear these things go on in this country all the time.
Yesterday I was doing some errands and I saw a lady on a corner. I drove past her at the stop sign, but about two miles away, I was still thinking about it and the “discussions” we have at my house about this. And I really wanted to know if she was being forced to stand there and collect money.
And, lo and behold, I heard something say, “Go back and see.”
Just like that: “Go back and see.” Now, even though I wish He would, the Lord doesn’t talk to me on a regular basis. But I had the feeling that this situation was okay for me to investigate and that I wouldn’t have any trouble. It was a peaceful easy feeling – like the song, you know?
So I turned around and went back. I parked my car in the parking lot behind the lady, got out, and went right up to her. No fear. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I did this. I yap quite a bit about things, but I would never have thought I would actually do something like this.
PLEASE NOTE – this was at a busy stop sign within a small shopping area. There were cars coming and going at all times – I was in no way out of the sight of other people the whole time this was taking place.
All in all, I was with her around twenty minutes. The whole time I was talking to her, I was moving – kind of dancing around on the curb - and watching for other cars and making sure someone was around. I was attempting to get information – to see if she was homeless and to see if she needed to know the location of a local shelter. AND to find out if she was being dropped off there to collect money for someone else. Her sign indicated she needed money for her kids and for food.
This is some of the conversation (a lot of it was repetitive):
Me: “Who made your sign?”
Her: puzzled look
Me: Who wrote your sign?” (Gesturing to the sign as though I was writing...)
Her: pointed to herself
Me: Please read it to me
Her: puzzled look
Me: “What does it say?” (I shook my head and looked puzzled and pointed to the sign.)
Her: “Oh! Need help. Kids. Money.”
Me: “You wrote this but you cannot read each word to me?”
Her: no answer…
Me: “Who dropped you off here?”
Her: puzzled look
Me: “How did you get here?”
(This went on for a minute or two and finally she indicated she had walked.)
Me: “So you walked here?”
Her: “Yes. Walk.”
Me: “Walked from where? Where did you walk from?”
Her: …gestured all around her (no particular place)
Me: “Who is making you do this?”
(This went on for a minute or two and finally she decided she needed to answer me regarding this matter because I wouldn’t let it go.
Her: “No – just me! Only me!”
Me: “Is someone beating you and making you do this?” (I make beating motion with my hand.)
Her: “NO! It is just me!”
THEN she pulls a piece of paper from her purse and on it is written in perfect penmanship: SENSOR
Her: “Need money – for my car. Car broke.”
Me: “You have a car?”
Her: “YES! SEE?” She points to the word SENSOR on the paper, excitedly, like she has made me understand.
THEN, for several more minutes, I asked questions such as, “Where are your kids? Where is your car? Where did you walk from? Is someone beating you? Is someone forcing you to do this? Who wrote this sign for you?”
It was with a certain clarity I had (don’t know where it came from) that she understood everything I was asking and it was kind of hard for her NOT to answer my questions and to pretend that she didn’t understand…
Finally she indicated that she was going to call her husband and he would come to tell me that she was not being forced to stand on the street with a sign.
So, now she had a car. And a husband. I asked her why her husband was not with her. She explained that he was somewhere looking for a job to get money. “They told him to go there for a job,” she said.
She took a cell phone from her purse and made a call. I don’t speak any languages other than English, but I can recognize several others. I have never heard a language such as she spoke. It was very rough and unpleasant to my ear.
While we were waiting for her husband, she pulled pictures of someone who looked like maybe a prophet – she had a couple of those – and then she pulled a picture of Jesus from her purse. She indicated, with hands pressed together and eyes raised toward the sky, that she was a praying woman and that she loved her some "Jeesit". She also told me that her two kids, ages 2 and 10, were in
(where she was from). Phoenix Arizona
At one point, I told her I was going to call the police so they could point her in the direction of a local shelter. I turned my head sideways and put my hands underneath my head to indicate sleeping. She immediately jumped back and said, “NO!”
She continued to point to the paper that said, “SENSOR” and told me it was for her “car.”
There was nothing about her car on the sign.
I asked her what language she was speaking. After I asked several times, she said, something like sounded like “Romano” or “Romani.” (This, I later learned is the language of the Gyspies.)
I said, casually, and don’t even know why I said it, “Oh, I thought you might be Spanish.” She IMMEDIATELY said, “I only speak a little Spanish.” (In perfect English, she said this.)
In a few minutes, a man came walking towards us. He looked nothing like her (race-wise). She was dark-skinned and he looked totally Caucasian. They both wore, what appeared to be, new clothes and sneakers. He had a nice knapsack. His teeth were dazzling white and absolutely well cared for. Hers were not.
He had a folded cardboard sign in his knapsack. It appeared to be in the same penmanship but I couldn’t see what it said.
I indicated to him that I was going to call the police to come help them find a place to sleep. This made him angry at once. I asked him who made his sign and he mumbled, with his head down, “Amigos.” I had the sense that he could totally speak English and that they both could understand everything I was saying. (Amigo is not the gypsy word for friend.)
All of a sudden I turned to her and asked. “WHERE is your car?”
Just as pretty as you please, she turned and pointed to the parking lot. “It’s a van,” she said.
“Please show me that it will not start,” I said.
She hesitated and then said, “Come on.”
The man had already turned and was walking away, muttering and angry. I believe he was cursing me in English.
I followed at a safe distance.
“Come,” she said. I also believe she said, “Come get in,” when she opened the car door. He was already in the van with the door shut.
I replied, “No thank you. I am fine exactly where I am. I can see you from here.” I was watching them with another car between us.
She began to smile. A faint smile, at first, and then it grew larger.
She got in the van, put the key in the ignition, and it started immediately.
“That engine sounds better than mine does,” I told her.
Her smile was so big, it was about to break her face. I think she was about to bust wide open with laughter. He was not. He was not happy with me at all.
I waved as they drove away and yelled, “Goodbye – God Bless You.”
I pray that I will never lose my “heart” for my fellow brothers and sisters and that God will give me the same kind of nudging to help in REAL situations – as the help He gave me in this situation when He urged me to “Go and see.” I will always feel it was to satisfy my nagging worrying about these people and whether or not we are obligated to give everyone who carries a sign some money. (The topic has really been discussed ‘way too much at our home lately.)
Y’all be careful out there – okay?