No doubt at some time or other, someone on the street has asked you for emergency cash assistance. John Flowers, an urban pastor in Phoenix focused on ministry with the marginalized, counsels against it. “Giving money not only produces a false sense of satisfaction; it perpetuates the system, keeping the poor dependent on the handout.”
Of course, it’s true that many find it difficult to live on minimum wage employment. Cash emergencies do arise. Yet providing money to someone with no strings attached does not help. And there are many con artists out there.
Flowers imagines a conversation that a clergy member or congregant might have when confronted with emergency need.  The main idea is to make an invitation to problem solving together about next steps. The goal is to move beyond giving money to empowering individuals for the future. Here’s the conversation:
“My mother is sick and dying in a Houston Hospital.”
“I’m so sorry, I lost my mother years ago. I know that must be tough.”
“Would you please buy me a bus ticket? I need to be with her and the bus leaves in one half hour.”
“I’m really sorry, we don’t do money. We used to do money and you’re not going to believe this, but 90% of the folks who came through these doors with a sad story were just trying to con us. I don’t question your story is true and I hate it that those who came before you ruined it for everybody. I have been given clear instructions, though, and we can’t do money.”
“I’m not asking for money, just a bus ticket.”
I hear you, but it takes money to buy a bus ticket and we don’t do money. We do food, clothing, medical care, dental care and vision care, AA meetings, Bible study, and even work. You can earn money for that ticket through working here. Our work program begins on Monday. Come and sign up, and you might earn some money to buy that ticket.”
“But she is expecting me there tonight!”
“I understand, and we can get you to Houston if you work with us.”
“You obviously don’t care!”
“Of course I care, but you came in here with a problem and said, ‘solve this problem my way.’ I will help you solve the problem, but only if I can have a voice in what plan we use.”
This approach takes more time and effort than simply giving cash. Yet the payoff is evident. It’s a promise to help, an invitation to problem solving, and a first step toward addressing the systemic problems that may have led to the cash emergency.
 John Flowers and Karen Vannoy, Not Just a One Night Stand: Ministry with the Homeless (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2009), 34,36,37.
Photo; “Open Hand,” Victoria Kovios, 9.20.2009. Flickr Creative Commons.