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Joe, the Professional Beggar

In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, our blog posts for the month of October will feature some unique persons whom the Lord brought across our pathway in ministry. Some stories are glad, others sad. All contain lessons to be learned.

One afternoon a middle-aged stranger appeared at our door, wearing a military hat and puffing on a pipe. “I’m a merchant marine,” he said, “and my ship left without me when I was sick. Could you lend me money so I can buy medicine? I’ll pay you back. And I’ll be at church on Sunday.”

Because our first pastorate was near the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, this man's story sounded plausible. At that point, we were inexperienced in the ways of professional panhandlers.

We felt sorry for the man, and if I remember correctly, my husband gave him cash (a major mistake.) We had only $30 to last until our next paycheck, but assumed he really needed it. My husband gave him $10.

We asked for his address. Cheerfully, he complied. Later, when my husband tried to visit him, he returned home and said, "Would you believe that guy's address doesn't exist?"

We thought we had seen the last of this panhandler. Of course, he never appeared at church.

A month later we stopped at a hamburger place half an hour from our house. To our surprise, there sat Joe with an older, kind-faced man. We suspected Joe the beggar had suckered this prey into buying him lunch.

“What should we do?” asked my husband.

“Let’s go sit next to them,” I said.

That’s when things became interesting.

“Hey, we’ve been missing you at church,” my husband said, sliding into a chair. Squirming in his seat, Joe was at a temporary loss for words.

We began a conversation with the gracious lunch doner and learned he was the president of the local veteran's group. Ah, Joe knew the right buttons to push!

Turning to the veteran's group president, one of us said, “So, what would you do if someone came to you for a handout and you discovered he was lying?”

Suddenly, Joe stuffed his unfinished meal in a bag and said “Well, I need to get going. Nice seeing you!” And he dashed out the door.

After arriving home, we called the veteran’s group president and explained why their beggar friend was nervous. His wife affirmed that indeed, Joe gave them a different fictitious story.

Lesson to new pastors: Con artists sometimes prey on churches. Be very judicious about giving out money. And perhaps a lesson to the beggar: “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

What about you? Any similar stories about being accosted by panhandlers? Feel free to use the comment box below.


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