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Beggar at the Door

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.


Ever wonder what goes on in a church parsonage? In honor of Pastor’s Wife Appreciation Month, here is a true account of a situation that occurred early in someone’s ministry.

            Living in a church parsonage affords unique blessings as well as unique challenges. One of our challenges many years ago was knowing what to do with the many beggars at our door.

            My husband pastored in a large city soon after we married. Our congregation was tiny, so we had to watch our spending to make sure there was no month left over at the end of the money. We didn’t realize the southern states were a panhandler’s paradise, and we didn’t know that living beside a church makes one a target for beggars.

            The most professional con artist we encountered knocked on our door early in our ministry. The stranger, whom I will call Jim, said he and his wife lived on the next street and needed food. We put together a bag of canned goods from our meager supply and sent him on his way.

This began the most ridiculous series of events you could imagine. Jim reappeared the next mealtime and claimed they were hungry again. We gave him more food.

He knocked on our door three times a day, begging.

Once he even claimed his wife needed feminine hygiene products. We gave and gave.

         During this time our firstborn baby arrived. Family and friends lived across the continent, leaving two bewildered parents (us) coping with caring for an almost-ten-pound baby. Ever hear of perpetual exhaustion?

  Heady with success, Jim ramped up his begging. He asked to borrow my husband’s fishing pole. We complied, hoping he would show a little initiative and catch his next meal.  Before walking off with the pole, Jim said, “Can you give me money for bait and soda and a bag of chips?” We were incredulous that someone could be so brash.

  Jim came back later with fish and said, “Would you clean these for me?”

        “No,” my husband replied. “You catch ‘em, you clean ‘em.” (This was the first time we had refused Jim. It must have come as a shock.)  Not to be deterred, however, Jim asked to borrow my husband’s bike. He said he got a job washing dishes at a restaurant a mile away and needed transportation.

      The last straw came one morning when Jim telephoned very early.

   “It’s raining and I need a ride to work.”

       “Use my bike,” my husband answered sleepily.

    “But I’ll get wet!” Jim whined.

      “Ride between the drops!” my husband said as he hung up.

   It was way past time for Jim to learn responsibility.

        Later that day, we called the restaurant manager to ask if Jim appeared for work. “I need a dishwasher bad,” the man said, “but not that guy. I hope he doesn’t come back!”

       The term enabler wasn’t being used in our culture yet. But we saw it in living color. We realized we hadn’t really been helping Jim. We were enabling him to thrive with his lazy, irresponsible behavior.

        My husband contacted the owner of Jim’s apartment and explained that his tenant had our bike and fishing rod, and we needed them back.

       “I’ll unlock his apartment for you,” he replied. “They’re not home now anyway.”

      Inside Jim’s apartment my husband said to the landlord, “There’s my bike behind the door. And there’s my fishing rod.”

        Apparently, the landlord knew more than we did about his wily tenant.

“This guy is something else,” he said. “He begged at a large church and got a week’s free rent, free bus passes and vouchers for a cart full of groceries. You oughta see what he brought in.”


Our sense of justice rocketed to the surface. Enough was enough. This soul needed a wakeup call.

     Jim arrived at our door later that day, furious that we had taken our belongings back.

       My husband was away from home; I had to face this angry offender alone. (One of the job descriptions they forgot to tell us pastors' wives. However, never underestimate a disgusted postpartum woman.)

Holding our newborn baby, I stood at our door and said to Jim what his parents should have long ago. (We were learning that pastors sometimes are saddled with the job of parenting those who never grew up.)

I spoke to Jim the way his mom should have. I told him how disgraceful his behavior was. How he needed to be a man and take responsibility instead of looking to others to bail him out. How he should stop being so lazy. I can’t believe I said all that, but disgust takes different forms with different people.

       Jim never came back after that.

       This ended the unbelievable but true chain of events which taught us that professional con artists adhere to the opinion of circus owner P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

      A wise old man added, “And one to take advantage of him.”

Any pastors or their wives out there with interesting experiences? Tell us about them below.




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