Matt Hershey is a church pastor in south-eastern Pennsylvania.
Last year I did something against my better judgment as a pastor. I often get calls in the office from people I don’t know requesting financial assistance. The church doesn’t have a hard and fast policy on when and what kind of situations we provide benevolence. We assess each person’s request and do what we feel is the healthiest thing for the individual we are serving, even if it means saying “no” on some occasions.
The woman who called was someone I had just recently met. We had helped her out with some food and paid the balance of her electric bill. She was a month behind in her finances because she had to buy her son’s books for college. He was the first from their family to find success academically—a double major in both business and linguistic studies.
When she called this time, she told me that she needed help with one more thing. Her son had received an heirloom from his grandfather the previous year for graduating high school. She had sold that heirloom to a pawn shop for grocery money. She was ashamed that she had hocked a prized possession of her son’s behind his back.
Would we buy back the heirloom for her? I’d never used my church credit card to make a purchase at a pawn shop. What would our accountant say? I would have some explaining to do.
After scoping out the pawn shop and negotiating a cheaper price for the heirloom than what was originally being asked, I took this woman in and made the purchase. I couldn’t let this memento, which represented relational ties and four years of academic commitment to a young man whose life was dominated by daily reminders of poverties’ relentless grasp, become a few bucks in some shady businessman’s pocket.
But had I done the right thing? Should I have bailed this woman out? Was I manipulated by the emotion of the situation?
Soon after the purchase of the heirloom I was reminded of a passage from my favorite book, Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America, by Robert Lupton. Lupton writes…
The affluent and the disinherited have frequent contact in the city. When impoverished people become desperate for food or a fix, satisfying that need becomes more important than anything…I tire of being hooked, deceived, taken from. But when I consider the safer ways of giving, the impersonal media appeals, the professional mailings that would free me from contagion and protect me from seeing the whole picture, I know I must continue touching and being touched…I will opt to be manipulated in person. For somewhere concealed in these painful interactions are the keys to my own freedom.
I see the woman now and then and she has worshiped with us on a few Sunday mornings. I hope she continues to come around and connect. More than that, I hope that there is something of Jesus that this woman experienced through our interaction together, something that she and I can share as His beloved. Perhaps it is as simple (and profound) as our shared redemption in Christ, our personal “buy back” from death offered freely to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.