From 2011 to 2012, I worked at a coffee shop. On my way into work one evening, a co-worker called and asked me to pick up some product from another store. Walking back to my car, product in hand, a man’s voice sounded behind me.
I turned to see a tall, balding man in his fifties.
“Hi…” I said.
He took a step forward and said, “I don’t know how this is going to go, but when God tells you to do something — you do it.”
For a brief second I saw myself pretending like I hadn’t heard him and hastily climbing into my car. I was late for work. My internal debate must have been interpreted as encouragement, because he began to tell me his story.
His name was Ron and he recently moved from Austin, Texas to Arizona with his wife, a couple of daughters and his asthmatic grandson. As soon as they arrived, it had been one struggle after another. They were living without electricity, and he just wanted enough money to get food that didn’t need to be cooked or refrigerated.
Ron also shared about the culture shock his family was experiencing. “People in Arizona are not nice.” He said. “I have been called everything from nigger to anything else you can think of. I was never called a nigger in Austin.”
On behalf of what feels like the ever-increasing number of ignorant Arizonans, I apologized. I told him I would help him out. I walked to the store across the parking lot and got Ron a bottle of water and some cash.
As I handed it all to Ron I asked, “Ron, have you been to a church? Sometimes churches budget for people who walk in needing help. I’m sure any of the churches in the area could help in a more substantial way.”
Ron shook his head, “No, I haven’t been to a church. Where do you go?”
I told him.
I never saw Ron again.
This memory rents space in my head from time to time, and I wonder if Ron was lying to me.
Was I being played?
Did I just enable an addiction?
We talked about this very issue one Wednesday night during a bible study, and the concern seemed the same for everyone. How do you know you’ve done the right thing?
You don’t. (Now, isn’t that comforting?)
Ron may have been scamming me. Ron may have been telling the truth. What I do know about Ron is…he was desperate. Desperate people ask for money in a parking lot, never mind the reason for their desperation. Whatever happened after my exchange with Ron is between Ron and God.
Helping Ron was more about me than it was about Ron. Meeting Ron meant I had to put Ron before getting to work on time, before my bank account, before what I thought was right or wrong and before my unwillingness to “be had.” That’s a big dose of humility considering I try to never be late for work, always try to be financially responsible, to do the right thing and avoid being scammed.
Sometimes… it’s not about them. It’s really about you.