April 9th, 2011

Panhandling for Him

by Wayno & Piraro

I wasn’t going to say anything about this but it has been eating at me for several days so here I am, treating my blog like a soapbox. Which it is, to some degree, so whatever.

I received an email earlier this week from someone I hadn’t seen or heard from in decades. I immediately realized it was a form letter she had sent out to (presumably) everyone in her address book. She described in noble terms how she, her husband, and their two teenage children wanted to go to Berlin on a “mission” trip this summer. Their intention was to hang out in parks and plazas and evangelize to teenagers:

“…we will conduct 2-3 outreaches every day speaking to a wide variety of people but especially the younger generation of goths, punks, drug addicts, alcoholics, atheists, etc.  Our goal is to open up natural conversations with people that initially begins with veils of hardness/crassness melting away to reveal hurting, broken, abused people desperately crying out deep down for hope.”

The kicker is that they are asking for donations from friends to help pay for this.

This is not a new phenomenon. When I lived in the South, I heard of fundamentalists asking for donations to pay for “mission” trips to places like Europe all the time. My immediate question has always been, “are there no ‘goths, punks, drug addicts, alcoholics, or atheists’ in your own city?” Why Berlin but not Dallas? Why Paris but not Arkansas?

The answer is obvious, though I’m sure people like this rationalize the hell out of it (pun intended) and convince themselves they are doing god’s work. But what they are actually doing is asking their friends to pay for their vacation, then bothering people on the street about their beliefs so they can pretend it’s a “working” trip.

Just yesterday, my wife was in Manhattan running errands and was approached by a woman from South Carolina who was visiting New York on the same kind of trip. She was with a large group from god-knows-where, visiting New York, passing out pamphlets for their church and pestering strangers about their beliefs. According to the woman, they had been to the Statue of Liberty that morning and really enjoyed it and now the group was on its way to the Empire State Building.

As every New Yorker knows, Liberty Island is rife with goths, punks, and drug addicts wandering around desperately crying out deep down for hope. When they don’t get it, they hightail it to the Empire State Building and hope someone helps them there. If they still haven’t been shown the way to Jesus, they hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Times Square, Central Park, and some very nice restaurants in the theater district. They often take in a show or two while they’re at it.

It’s fine if you want to make a nuisance of yourself about your own brand of make-believe while on vacation; I’m all for personal freedom. But don’t pretend you are doing something noble for the “kingdom of God” and ask me to pay for it. In spite of what the Bible says about pride, these people could use some.

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