“Help me! Help me!” We came closer to the pleading person as we casually trekked along downtown Indianapolis on our way to a coffee break. It was a balmy day, and our son visiting from Chicago and our youngest granddaughter were with us. Our son wanted to visit “The Oldest Shoe Store in the United States,” located on trendy Massachusetts Avenue, a street that juts off the heart of downtown Indianapolis and is often frequented by Indy’s jet set because of its appealing places to eat and hang out.
We had just eaten lunch at a pizza place and while there, my husband, a pastor on Indy’s south side, noted to our son that it was ironic that while sitting in the pizza place, you could look out the window to our left and see Wheeler Rescue Mission, a historic and noted mission ministry serving our city’s down and out, homeless population, from its strategic downtown location. You could then glance to our right and see Mass Ave where people who were anything but down and out like to congregate for upscale food and friendship. It was a story in itself that could not escape us as we mentally noted the two worlds yards but yet lightyears apart from one another.
Having finished lunch and remembering that we had passed a coffee house on our way to our on-street parking spot just a block away, we decided to go there for a cup of brew. We had maneuvered a couple of intersections when we heard the cry “Help me!” coming from a middle-aged man just ahead of us. He was dressed shabbily with a hat pulled down on his forehead. He stood where a steady stream of traffic was passing him and where we were headed. He had only a tin cup in his hand, and it was evident that he was asking for donations. Most people passed him by without acknowledging his presence, but to every person who got near him, including our party of four, the poor man would cry out two simply piteous words, “Help me!” We passed him without looking his way and went straight ahead for coffee.
“Well, he probably would have used the money we would have given him for alcohol,” or “He probably has a bank account and really doesn’t need our money,” or some such rationalization that we’ve all heard and at some time used.
Our eight-year-old granddaughter, not used to forays downtown, asked when we were yards past the man with the tin can, “What was that man doing?” My husband replied, “He was begging for help.” Nothing more was said about it, and we had our coffee and left. Walking back to the car we noted that the beggar was gone.
Evidently, though nothing further was said about the incident on that day, my husband had not gotten it out of his mind. At breakfast the next morning he said to all of us, “That man that we passed yesterday who was begging on the street, I have not forgotten him. In fact, I thought about him all the while we were getting coffee, and I had determined that when we passed him going back to the car I would give him some help. But he was gone when we went back, and I could not help him then.” The conversation was quiet for some time. Perhaps those of us who were adults were rehearsing in our heads lines like, “Well, he probably would have used the money we would have given him for alcohol,” or “He probably has a bank account and really doesn’t need our money,” or some such rationalization that we’ve all heard and at some time used. It didn’t leave our heads though, that pitiful plea from one human being standing on a trendy street corner trying to grab the heart of someone heading to an upscale coffee shop. “Help me.” And we walked on by. Not a dime given, not a tract offered, not even a glance.
It was a teaching moment that we probably will not forget. My husband said in his message the Sunday after that Friday experience that Paul, in 2 Cor. 9:9 cited Psalm 112:9 almost verbatim where God says of the “good man” that he had “given to the poor.” The scene will be played over in our minds many times from now until Christmas day next, when we’ll all gather around a full-spread table thanking God for His bountiful provision to us and remembering that not far from our place of bounty is a human being on some street, even on Mass Avenue, crying “Help me!”
Written by Ellen Slutz. This article was published in the Winter 2015 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine. Ellen and her husband, Tony live in Indianapolis, IN where Tony serves as senior pastor of Thompson Road Baptist Church.