Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Being Scammed

One of the realities of pastoring a small church is the fact that you are going to be hit up for money frequently.  I have found this to be true in both rural and urban ministry.  People you don't know will stop by the church or parsonage or will call on the phone and try to get you to give them money. Preferably cash.

I've been approached four times just recently.

  • A call on the phone from a guy "stranded" at a hotel... in need of help with another night's lodging... suffering because he hasn't had his medications.
  • A man stopping at the church during the day... in need of gas money to get to Cambridge to pick up his daughter who ran away to her grandparents after his wife left him.  He strongly suspects his wife is using drugs again.
  • A woman who appeared at church this past Sunday right as people were leaving... in need of money for food, diapers and household items. She and her family of nine people just moved to Canton to escape the chemical fumes in Steubenville. 
  • A man who came to the church this evening when he saw the lights on because of a ladies' sewing group meeting there.  He was in need of bus fare for himself and his family - and a ride three miles one way to where he had left his family.  (This and his father had just died an hour ago at Aultman hospital and his car had been towed after the serpentine belt broke.)

Now - are these people "for real?"

They are real people, but as for their stories, I have my doubts. Everybody who comes has a similar story. They all need help through no fault of their own.  They are all good Christians who go to church somewhere else.  (This last guy is supposedly the pastor of a small congregation in town.)  Nobody they actually know can help them until a few days from now.  They all are going to receive a government check, a disability check or a pay check in the next few days.  They would be glad to pay you back.  Their story almost always involves helping some invisible person(s) who are somewhere else.  They have always come to town or need to leave town or get across town to reach some person in distress.  Your help is really for that distant, stranded, youthful person.

They are expert at needing cash.  If you have food, there is some reason they cannot eat it.  If you have a bus pass they need to go somewhere the bus doesn't go. If you have a gas card, they need food. If you have a grocery card they need gas. Cash is the only thing they really want and they can be quite impatient with you if you don't give it to them.

I believe they are all fakes. Yes they live in some sort of generational poverty - but that is because their whole plan for making a living is to scam people out of money - five bucks here - twenty bucks there - and once in a while a Walmart gift card.

It always places me in an awkward position:

  • I can call them a liar to their face and cause a scene.
  • I can pretend that they are genuine and tell them "no" I'm not going to help them.
  • I can play along and give them at least some of what they want.

The Bible does say that we are to have compassion toward "the poor" and to not close our ears to their cries.  But the poor the Bible is talking about are people you know personally who have suffered some sort of disaster.  You know them. You know their family. You see them every week.  I will stretch myself to help them in significant ways.

But the scammers in the world are living foolishly and living by lying.  They think they are getting something for nothing, but they are not.  I'll help them in fives, tens and twenties. They are frauds and fakes.  The money they get will never take them very far.  They will never be delivered from their life of scamming through a life of scamming.  And for that reason I truly pity them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for submitting another blog entry, Pastor Denny. As usual, I'm happy to see that you were feeling well enough to write a post. I'm sure God's strength helps you with every day of your life (as the Lord does with every one of us who gives praise). It is a shame that some individuals depend on swindling the compassionate and caring beings of a Christian community i.e. the church. They truly ruin it for the rest of the people who actually need legitimate help. Regardless, it sounds like you and the other members handled the situations appropriately. One interesting saying that I've heard over the many years is "God helps those who help themselves". I wonder if they had visited any other close churches before coming to your congregation... Anyways, I think the best we can all do is to pray for them and let the Lord guide them accordingly.