Monday 17 November 2014

What to do with Fred? - How to help the poor. (By Bethan)

We seem to have adopted a grown man called Fred.

Three years ago we asked a metal-worker to fix some gutters on our house and commissioned him to build a slide for Sam.  He did both jobs very well, but the slide was very much delayed because the worker had ‘gone to the village’ and hadn’t come back.  We were quite annoyed at the delay, however, we soon learned that the worker had become paralysed in the village because he had suffered a major stroke.   We soon became very guilty as we were thinking him lazy and maybe even that he had stolen the metal we already paid for and run off to the village.

This man was Fred.

We received our slide from one of Fred’s apprentices and thought no more about him until one day, two years later, Fred appeared on our doorstep.  Literally on our doorstep: I went out to take the boys to school at 8am and actually tripped over him.  “Hello?” I enquired, “Can I help you, sir?”  He explained that he was Fred who had built the slide and he wanted to talk to Gareth so I let him in and Gareth listened to him.  Apparently Fred had come because since his stroke he had struggled to get work, considering he could now no longer use one side of his body (although he could walk) and his family had to move to Jinja (8 hours away by bus) and he had run out of money.  He needed work but before that he needed money to buy metal in order to make something to sell.  Gareth sent him with 20,000 shillings (£5) to make a school boarder’s tin trunk which he would hope to sell at 30,000 shillings.  Problem solved.  Or so we thought.

The next week Fred was back … with the trunk!   Fred explained that he hadn’t found anyone to buy the trunk and that he didn’t want to be in debt so if we just gave him 10,000 shillings we could, in effect, absolve his debt and have a tin trunk in with the deal!  Win-win!  (Over the next months we would come to find Fred full of win-wins that somehow didn’t add up!)  So Sam is now the proud owner of a tin-trunk in which to pack his toys to come home.  At least he thinks he has won!

Fred came back a week later at 7.30am.  He asked to speak to Gareth.  Gareth came and Fred told him that he needed more work.  Gareth told him of our colleague who needed a lock fixed on his own tin trunk (everyone must have one!)  We arranged to deliver the trunk to his ‘workshop’ (under a tree off the main road) and although we believe he over-charged us for the business but we figured we were helping him at the same time.  We said thank you and good bye.

Fred came back a week later.  At 7.30am.  I tripped over him at the gate on my way to school.  I inwardly groaned and then immediately thought “I wonder if Jesus ever groaned at seeing someone in need?” and felt guilty.  I smiled at Fred.  “Good morning Fred!  How can I help you?”  He wanted to see Gareth.  “Gareth’s a little busy right now, preparing for work in a village.  Can I help you?”  No.  Fred just wanted to see Gareth.  I’m used to this now: Gareth is the boss and any word from me, even if I say “Gareth said this” is irrelevant and probably untrue.  I went to get Gareth who also groaned.  Fred wanted more work.  We seriously didn’t need any more trunks by this point so we sent him over the road to Sam’s school to ask the director if he needed a slide for the kids’ playground, which we had heard him mention before.  Fred didn’t want to go alone so Gareth went with him and became late for the whole day of busy work making a water tank in a village.  The director didn’t have an answer straight away but promised to phone Fred back.

Fred came back a week later.  I tripped over him at the gate.  “Morning Fred!” I groaned inwardly thinking ‘Now I understand why Jesus used to go up a mountain or in a boat to get away from people!’  “What can I do for you this morning?”  Fred wanted to know why the director hadn’t phoned him yet.  I took Fred to see the director but he wasn’t there.  He then wanted to see Gareth to say good bye.  “It’s fine, Fred, don’t worry about it, I’ll tell him you said ‘bye.”  No, Fred was adamant he was going to see Gareth and anything I said wouldn’t change his mind.  I told him he may as well wait at the gate to save him the walk up to our veranda which, as a semi-paralysed man, is a steep walk.  He waited at the gate.  I went in to get Gareth.  Gareth groaned and we had a little rant about how Fred was really annoying.  Then we had a little rant about how annoying it is that we could never do the right thing: if we kept on giving him things he would keep coming back.  If we didn’t give him anything we were ignoring one of Jesus’ own children who was in need.  Gareth went to see Fred but Fred had gone. 

The next time he came he chastised me for being rude and leaving the gate locked with him outside.  I tried indignantly to explain myself but Fred always talks through my explanation and continues with his helpless expression and nothing can be said that he would listen to.  Of course he wanted to see Gareth so I went to get Gareth before I exploded in Fred’s face.  Fred told Gareth about how he was going to see his family in Jinja and try to stay with them and get work.  The upshot was that Gareth gave him 60,000 (£15) for bus fares to Jinja and sighed an inward sigh of relief thinking we wouldn’t be tripping over Fred on our doorstep again.

Three weeks later I tripped over Fred on the doorstep at 8am.  Oooooooh no.’ I sighed under my breath.  “Morning Fred!”  I said.  “I’m surprised to see you here, I thought you went to Jinja!”  Fred had gone to Jinja and found that everyone there was using machines to make metal objects so there was no work for someone who still used their hands.  He came back to find work instead.  But alas, there was no work to be had.  Could we possibly give him some money to help him buy metal to work?  Of course he didn’t say this to me, I’m just the secretary.  He asked Gareth.  Gareth said that he wouldn’t be getting any more money and advised him what he should do in terms of looking around and asking around for work.  He offered Fred the opportunity to figure out how to make metal cases for some new stoves that Isaiah and he were making.  Fred went away to figure it out.

Two weeks later Fred was our early morning wake up call.  “Just be aware, Bethan, I think Fred’s at the gate,” warned Gareth.  I took the boys to school and when I came back Fred had let himself in the gate and was sitting on our veranda.  “Gareth, he’s here” I told Gareth.  Gareth didn’t have time to talk to Fred and we both muttered to each other in operatic hushed-tones how we were thoroughly fed up with this man coming to us asking for our help.  Gareth was in a hurry, already late for a long day of burning agricultural waste and making charcoal – a long business that needs a whole day to be done in a village two hours’ drive up a mountain – and seeing Fred was the last thing on his mind.  “Yes, Fred.”  He said bluntly.  Fred explained how he didn’t have any work or hadn’t eaten breakfast and was generally in tough times.  Gareth tried to sympathise but in the end had to shout and use a tough voice to get through to Fred because everything he started saying was interrupted with an excuse as to why Fred’s idea of a hand-out was right and Gareth’ idea of trying to help in other ways was wrong.  Gareth said that he would not give him any more money whilst not seeing anything for it (understand Gareth is a development worker so handing out money is not the way they work: first you implement an idea, work out how much it will cost, make sure it is going to work and then find funding – in effect, us.)  He eventually had to shout to Fred “please go, Fred, I’m not giving you any money and I have to go to work!”  Gareth was about to get into the car and drive off when the usual tug of his conscience made him stop (the Holy Spirit loves to keep tugging and making us better people despite our best efforts!)  He ran down the drive, along the road and offered Fred some baked bin tins and the like for him to recycle into useful things for him to sell.  Fred went away with the tins looking most dejected.

A week later Fred was back.  As I fell over him at the gate at 8am I said “Fred, there’s nothing for you here, please, you have to stop coming to us.  We can’t solve all your problems plus the rest of the town whose people are also poor.”  Fred explained that he was particularly unlucky.  “But the whole of Kasese is unlucky!  So many people are sick, paralysed, deaf, poor and generally very badly off!  Why should I only keep on giving you money and help when the whole town would start coming and then where would we be?  [It is unlikely that the whole town would start coming but I was off on a tirade by this point.]  We are not a bank where you can just come and withdraw money!”  Fred asked me what is a bank.  I sighed.  “A bank is where you walk in and withdraw money and then go.  We are not a bank!  You cannot just come here, ask for money every week and then go!”  Fred kept on explaining that he was a special case, that his mum was dying in Jinja and he had to go there to be with her and therefore needed to talk to Gareth.  “Fine!”  I replied, exasperated.  “I’ll go and get Gareth.” 

With one movement I went in the gate and shut it before he could follow me in, leaving him sitting on the grass outside our gate.  I went to tell Gareth that his best friend was here and we both said to each other “Seriously, what are we supposed to do?  I’m pretty sure we are supposed to just keep giving and giving without complaining because we have far more than he does and to us it really doesn’t matter if we give him £5 because we have it.  But if he keeps on coming every Monday for the rest of our time here he is not only going to drive us insane but he will keep asking for more and more until we feel thoroughly taken for granted and then his friends will start coming too!”  We really didn’t know what to do.  Eventually we decided that we should give him 20,000 shillings (£5) and a bottle of water to go to Jinja and we should advise him to stay there with his family because he clearly isn’t getting any work here in Kasese so he may as well be there in Jinja not getting any work where his family can look after him.  Maybe one of his children needs to leave school to find work to look after him (we usually would not advise children leaving school but since any education beyond year 6 is out of the ordinary it is not unusual for people to do that here.)  Isn’t that why people have so many children?!

By the time we had discussed all this Gareth went to the gate and found that Fred had gone.  The next bit is rather ironic, considering that we had been trying to get rid of Fred: Gareth ran down the road looking for Fred in order to give him the money and give him the advice to stay in Jinja!  He found him a few hundred metres down the road and hopefully, saw Fred go on his way for the last time.

Fred has really made us think but we are really and truly not sure what Jesus is trying to teach us through Fred’s visits.  Or are we making excuses and it is really perfectly obvious:  We are not seeing Jesus in everyone we meet.  What does the Bible say about Fred?

Matthew 25:35 –

Jesus was talking to people: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.   Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?  The King will reply “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Proverbs 14:31
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Matthew 10:42
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."

No comments:

Post a Comment