The old faces are still there.
The man with the swollen foot begging just off Bliss. The old men selling lottery tickets outside the hospital. The three women selling gum on the steps of Idriss. The group of a dozen or so Palestinian kids begging for money and food around the cafes on Hamra street.
But the new faces are now outnumbering the old. Mostly women with small babies or children laying limp in their arms. Some of the kids are in such bad shape I actually truly wonder if they are still alive. The style of their clothes is just a bit different and the urgency of their pleas seems stronger somehow. “God keep your children, please, I’m from Syria….”
Recently a politician here said he believed there were one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon now. Official counts are somewhere around 400,000. (I started writing this post more than a month ago, don’t know what the most up-to-date numbers are now.) Either way, that is a lot of hungry, desperate people.
We’ve always struggled with how to respond to the beggars we pass every day, and that struggle has only multiplied in the past few months.
We still have way more questions than answers about what the needs truly are and the best way to help.
Ideally, relationships would be built, stories would be heard, the help that is truly needed would be given. I’m trying to do that. Helping the woman who wants milk for her baby with breastfeeding, giving clothes that my girls have outgrown, giving alef or 5…. but it feels like a drop in the bucket when in 3 minutes I pass a dozen more women with hungry babies on their hip.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me….” (Mt 25:35-6) I mean, it doesn’t get much clearer than that.
But what about the woman breastfeeding her baby while holding out an empty bottle saying her baby is hungry. Is it my job to ascertain if she really needs money for milk? (I don’t think so – that it’s my job, I mean.)
Who am I – as I walk down the street in my Toms carrying my baby in a $60 wrap – to judge whether this woman in front of me who has escaped horrors I can never understand, who has resorted to begging in the streets in order to feed her children, who am I to judge whether she is truly in need? (But what if I know I am being lied to?)
And yet, if I give money, am I really helping or just making things worse? (I don’t know.)
But if I buy the little girl a manaouche instead of giving her money, will she be beaten by her “handler” because she didn’t make enough that day? (But if I give money, am I not just perpetuating the cycle?)
If I buy the formula the woman says her baby needs, am I sabotaging her ability to provide her milk? (Yes.)
But how is ignoring the pleas of the needy in any way showing them dignity and the love of Christ? (It’s not.)
We support ministries here in Lebanon that are doing amazing things to help those in need. But how does that help the woman standing in front of me right now? (It doesn’t.)
I want to help. I don’t always know how to help. I need wisdom. I need grace.
This post feels disjointed, because my thoughts are as well.