Good Samaritan or Gullible Sucker?

A true confession of my confusion and black heart…

I came out of my office, got in my car, and there was a taptaptap on the window. I wound down the window and chatted with the man standing there.

“My wife just had a miscarriage,” he said. “She is bleeding. Can you help me?”

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I know the deal. Another expat had just told him, “I’ve lived here too long to give people money,” and drove away. She was a lot quicker with a response than me. I hesitated.

What if his wife really was bleeding?

I hear these kinds of sentences almost every day and honestly, most of the time when I investigate a bit, they aren’t true. But what about when they are?

I couldn’t offer to drive her to the hospital, that would have been the best thing to do. But my husband needed the car and it was late and I couldn’t call him.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“Follow me,” the man said.

I walked with him about a block, back behind a row of massive new houses. I wasn’t sure how long I would follow him: a strange man, a lone foreign woman, darkness, heading into a huddle of homeless people’s cloth and stick huts. He stopped before we were too far in and pointed at a woman lying on the ground.

She lay on a scrap of cloth, next to what must be called a house. It must be called that because they lived there but it bore little resemblance to what many people would consider a ‘house.’ It was four sticks jammed into the ground and a torn cloth tied down as a roof. There were no walls, just piles of their few belongings. Some clothes, some plastic bottles, probably to be bartered the next day at a shop, some empty cans.

I asked the woman what happened. I didn’t see any blood but she was probably adept at cleaning things up. Women in her position use the slips they wear under their thin cotton dresses to wipe blood every month. She mostly just moaned.

The man said he needed money for a taxi to the hospital. I gave it to him, plus a little extra.

I felt terrible.

What if he used it for khat, the leafy drug people are addicted to here? What if he had lied and it was all a show, to get some money?

And I felt terrible about feeling terrible. I felt conflicted. Had I just been duped? Was I a gullible sucker or a good Samaritan? And then I thought, does it matter?

Who cares if he used it for khat or if he lied? Or if he didn’t use it for a taxi but used it for some bread and beans for dinner? No matter what he did with the money, I had a lot more money than he did.

Why did I have to make this whole scenario about me, (like I wrote about here: Why Is It Always About Money?) about bigger philosophical issues of money and poverty and generosity and guilt complexes and best practice and helping without hurting?

And most uncomfortably, why did I feel worse about the possibility of having been duped than I felt grieved over their desperate poverty?

I didn’t want to write that sentence. I didn’t want to address that issue. It would be easier to wax poetic about the vagaries of wealth and privilege, to spout off verses about giving, to pretend like I had simply delighted in the joy of sharing. I could pretend like I’m a hero, for caring about the poor. That would all be deceptive.

I was conflicted, impatient, suspicious, torn. I don’t like being taken advantage of and so my pride became the issue at the center of this interaction. It was more important to me to be certain that I wasn’t being used than to make certain that this family had food and shelter. And since I couldn’t be certain of it, I was plagued by questions and doubts and the slimy feeling of being embarrassed. What would other expats think? Haha, Rachel, still after 14 years here, gets tricked. Haha.


If I had done nothing and gone home, I would have forgotten all about it. I would not have been kept awake at night with fears for this woman’s health or concerns about her living situation. But because I gave them money and because I worried about my own reputation and sense of honor, I was kept awake by the nagging questions of whether I should have given the money, of what other people would think.

Oh gross heart.

I don’t have any wise conclusions with which to wrap up this story. I’m simply saying, it’s complicated. I’m a mess. I still don’t know what to do. But the conclusion I’m gradually coming to in my heart, for myself and my context, is that I would rather be both a gullible sucker and a good Samaritan than a glib Scrooge.

God can work out the difference in the end. And somehow, I don’t think he will make fun of me for, maybe, being taken advantage of from time to time.

Yet again, we are talking about money. How do you deal with these situations?



People are not our Project

As a zealous, young missionary I seemed to make  the same mistake over and over. Now as a veteran, I find the same never-ending truth must remain continually before me.

People are not our projects.


We never set out to do this intentionally. Our mistakes are made in ignorance. Our desire is to do good, to help others, and to bring change.

Even with these godly desires, we must remain ever careful to not walk in superiority and arrogance.

The message “I have something to give you” may be true, but must be balanced out with a healthy dose of humility and a learning spirit.

Because the truth is, we all have something to give each other.

Examine these two statements. Although similar, they can create two completely different perspectives.

“I have walked with so and so for this many years.”


“We have walked together for this many years.”

The difference is subtle.

If you are working in an area where colonialism has been present, these subtle differences can be interpreted in ways you would never desire.

As we walk with different people in various cultures, humility requires us to be willing to receive and learn from others.

One particular young man and I have now journeyed together for nearly ten years. The other day we went for a meal and he insisted on paying. Even though I consider him a friend and not a project or my ministry, I could feel some push back in my heart.

Must I be in the place of power, being the one who pays? Do I allow myself to receive…or only give?

I received his offer to pay, and we had a wonderful meal together. But in this event I saw  I must still constantly be aware of this subtle form of pride which creeps up; even after all these years.


Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Can we receive from those we work with?
  • Do we learn from the culture we are working in, or is our way always better?
  • When is the last time we were taught at a local church service rather than a podcast or blog post from home?
  • Do we feel uncomfortable when we find ourselves on the receiving end of generosity?

I recently heard the story of a friend who was given a rather lavish gift from someone. It is one thing to accept a cup of tea or a meal, but can we receive an extravagant blessing given by someone who hails from culture we serve in?

If people are our friends, and we view them as equal, then we must be willing to receive.

Bishop Desmond Tutu famously says, “We are stronger when we are together.”

This same image is reflected in Scripture speaking of one body with many parts. Different members, yet all essential.

Recently I organized a conference of Bible School leaders from all over the African continent. I was intentional in trying to create an opportunity to learn from each other, not just present one view from the front. We had a beautiful time discussing difficult issues such as finances, tribalism, and injustice we have faced.

We truly were “better together.”

When we do not view people as our projects, but rather see them as equal image bearers of God, remarkable things can happen.

Let’s preach this “gospel” to ourselves each day.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima

Responding to Beggars

I’m not even going to pretend to offer rules on how to respond to beggars. I’m not even going to define ‘beggar.’ There are lots of varieties of people who ask for money or help and I don’t like calling them beggars. I prefer to call them Saada or Abdul but for simplicity, I’ll call them beggars. (The following was written after I read 9 Quick Tips for Responding to Beggars by Someone Who Knows Them by Craig Greenfield.)


There are a lot of beggars in Djibouti and with the new stoplights (that’s right, Djibouti recently got stoplights), street corner begging has increased. By street corner begging, I mean when you stop at a red light (that’s also right, in Djibouti most drivers stop at red lights) and kids swarm the car.

There are other places where people beg and there are beggars who come to our door. I want to talk about two kinds of interactions – the ones on the street corner and the ones at the front door.

I have to confess that I haven’t always responded well to street corner beggars. I used to ignore them. Stare straight ahead. Continue the conversation with the passenger. Pretend there isn’t a young girl holding a baby or a boy with a pouty look tapping his fingers against his lips for ‘thirsty.’

Then I read a story about Jesus where the first thing he did was look at the person seeking help. He looked at him. Step 1 and it cut me to the heart.

Okay, I can look at them. Ignoring someone is not honoring their personhood, it is not offering them the dignity of acknowledging that they, too, are made in the image of God. So I started looking.

And I saw the same kids on the same corners all the time. So I started engaging with them. In the first few seconds they could only repeat the ‘give me money’ request and couldn’t hear that I was asking them their name. But slowly, their faces would change. Their eyes would ignite, they would start to smile. They dropped their fingers from their lips and said, “My name is…”

“Where is your mom?” I would ask. “Is she working? Where is your dad? Why aren’t you in school?”

We would chat until the light changed and the conversation would resume the next time I stopped. The kids on my regular corners stopped asking for money. They waved, some saluted, some made running motions because we also saw each other on my early morning jogs, sometimes they joined me for a block or two.

I never give them money. I do sometimes suggest places they can go for help – the neighborhood mosque or the Catholic-sponsored charity for street kids.

The beggars who come to my house are regulars. We know each others names, I know a little bit of their home life stories. They are usually mothers with heaps of young children that I know are their own because we’ve lived here long enough to see women through several pregnancies. I also don’t give these women money but when they come by, about once a week, I raid my cupboards and fridge and hand-me-down clothes. If they have a medical prescription, I take it and fill it. If they are in labor, I drive them to the maternity hospital and pay the bill.

It isn’t easy. I lose my patience. Sometimes I’m grumbling inwardly as I stuff bags or I thrust the food at them and don’t interact in a warm way. I’m greedy and selfish and lazy. My mind fills with excuses and judgments. But I try to keep going back to Jesus, who looked at the needy. And I started looking, really looking and recognizing individuals. Sometimes that makes it harder because now I know them and I can’t fix their situation. I can’t stop drug abuse or spousal abuse, I can’t solve endemic problems, I can’t force parents to keep kids who seem so sharply intelligent in school. But…

I’m learning that the most important question to ask is not: How can I solve this problem? It is: How can I love this person well?

It starts with looking at them and from there, it is a long road of growth and challenges. Along the way, we each need to be led by our own situations, contexts, convictions, and the Spirit filling us.

How about you? How do you respond to beggars?