December 17, 2017

How to Give without Being Taken

Terry Hagedorn

Having served one tour in Vietnam, I was wise to murderous thieves and con men. (The Vietcong were fairly nasty, as well.) However, on my way to visit Vietnam for the second time, my commercial flight landed in the Philippines. Two skycaps in uniform — that is, one uniform (one wore the skycap shirt, and the other wore the pants) — agreed to carry my luggage for a bargain price: “We carry — one dollah.” The only problem was that one “skycapped” one piece of my luggage one way, and the other “skycapped” off in the opposite direction — leaving me in a lurch. Fortunately, the security police grounded the skycaps before they took off. I never did get my two bucks back, though.

I determined that I’d be more cautious and less naive. In August 1983, I backslid on my skycap lesson and was responsible for our church being hoodwinked out of $192 in cash by two “tarheelers.” Later I learned that they weren’t really “tarheelers,” but they were West Virginians. Frankly, I don’t know which fact disappointed me more.

It was a hot August (1983) Sunday morning. I opened the Adult Sunday School class in prayer. When I looked up, I found that the class had increased by two, a middle-aged man and a young man. As soon as class was over, I welcomed them.

I asked, “Are you from the area?”

The older man answered, “No, we’re from North Carolina. I pastor a church there. This is my son.” He paused. “I came up to conduct my sister’s funeral. She and my brother-in-law were killed in a head-on crash in Oakland, Maryland,” he sadly explained before recounting the whole incident.

Somewhere violins were playing a dirge. I actually had to choke back the tears, because I remembered hearing about just such an accident earlier that week. The hook was set! In fact, I swallowed hook, line, sinker, rod, reel and boat!

“Yesterday, we were heading home when the car broke down. We had to spend the rest of our money — seventy-five dollars — to fix it,” so, we had to sleep in the car last night. But we didn’t want to miss being in the Lord’s house on the Sabbath. We’re sorry we were late. Please, forgive our sloppy appearance, as well.”

“Don’t worry about that,” I comforted him, “you’re welcome here; I know the Lord understands. I’m so very sorry about your sister.”

“Thank you, Pastor. Just pray that we can get back in time for the revival services in our home church. They’re supposed to start tonight. I’ve got a full tank of gas. With the Lord’s help, we can just make it back in time,” he said as he bit his lower lip.

I called a deacon and a few other men together for an impromptu meeting near the pulpit. “We’ve got to help them,” I said.

“I’ll give twenty dollars,” one man responded, as he reached for his wallet.

“Let’s just give them a check for a hundred dollars,” someone else suggested.

Another person commented, “Let’s just give them all the cash that comes in the offering; they can’t cash a check today.” I still don’t know who said that. I now believe it was the older “tarheeler.”

It doesn’t matter, though. At that point, we were so vulnerable that if someone had said, “Let’s put all our money, checkbooks, stocks, bonds, wallets, watches, rings, gold teeth and any other valuables into a pillowcase and give it to them,” we would have done it. At that time, we made Jethro D. Bodine, Beverly Hillbilly, look like Albert Einstein, nuclear scientist.

As we all stood watching and waving as the men pulled out of the parking lot with our $192, someone observed, “Hey, they have a West Virginia license plate.”

It’s amazing how quickly warm and fuzzy feelings of sincere Christian love can be converted to a Shiite’s lust for vengeance.

We prayed, “Lord, you know our hearts. We sincerely desired to help these people. If they are lying thieves, please stop them before they can hurt anyone else.”

Within the next few days, we heard numerous reports of other churches being bilked out of offerings. While misery may love company, there is no consolation in that pitiful company.

Later that week, at my jail ministry, I asked the prisoners gathered for the service, “Is this everyone?”

“No. There are two more back there. They’re the ones that have been robbin’ churches,” they glibly reported.

The two men didn’t come out. Yet, they heard the message. Believe me, they heard the message! In fact, I don’t know if anyone has ever preached more eloquently or with more hell fire and brimstone than I did that night.

A hard lesson is a good lesson. We owe those two con artists more than $192 worth of thanks for making us develop and use a policy on giving:

1. “Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). We should help our own first. How many of our churches have helped absolute strangers, yet we have never done anything for our own. Strangers, the lost and the unchurched should first be directed to contact charitable agencies.

2. Have a Charity Committee comprised of pastor, pastor’s wife and at least two other church members.

3. Any requests of more than $25 (or any amount determined by the church) must be approved by the Committee. This policy does two thing:

It allows the pastor to have some discretionary funds for real needs. There are those with legitimate emergency needs.

It discourages freeloaders, who won’t wait for approval.

4. Don’t always give the cash. Offer to purchase the food, medicine, diapers, gasoline, etc. It is amazing how many folks want only cash—possibly for the wrong reasons.

5. In dealing with strangers, I have found the following to be quite effective in weeding out the undeserving:

I ask the people about their salvation. If they are unsaved, I witness to them. Sometimes the person gets saved! Nine times out of ten, though, the people profess to be saved already.

If the people are saved, I ask them of what church they are members:

If the people name a church, I ask if they have called their pastor. I tell them that I would be offended if our church members went to another church for help before contacting me. I encourage them to call their pastor before we give any assistance. If they won’t call, then I volunteer to call.

If they have no church home, I tell them that maybe the reason that they are having trouble is that the Lord may be chastising them for failing to join a church. I ask them to contact a pastor in their hometown and arrange for a visit before we will help them.

Needless to say, many of those requesting help will not endure such scrutiny. That’s the purpose of the policy.

Please don’t think that I am hard-hearted. I want to help the truly deserving; however, I am determined never again to waste the Lord’s money. It is His money.

We will give account about its use. I regret the loss of $192, but the lesson we learned has saved wasting thousands of dollars more.

Terry Hagedorn is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Reedsville, West Virginia

(Originally published in FrontLine • Fall 1993. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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