Should Christians give money to beggars?

Just returned from a deeply impactful trip to Cambodia where I taught the Whole Life Offering material for the first time, to the Child Evangelism Fellowship Asia-Pacific Conference. Teaching WLO was beyond great, but the personal highlight of the trip for me was having the opportunity to preach to the poorest of Cambodia’s poor at a squatter’s camp of 10,000 outside of Phnom Penh. It’s in such moments that one discovers whether one has any good news worth sharing.

So that was the experience floating around in my mind when I read Holden Karnofsky’s post, Should I Give Out Cash In Mumbai?

Worthwhile reading, that.

Holden considers three options (give cash to those who beg for it, give cash randomly to people whether they beg or not, or give cash to a local nonprofit) before deciding that giving to a local nonprofit may be the approach that has the most to commend it.

My own list of options would look quite different than Holden’s for reasons I shared recently with Sharefaith‘s Daniel Threlfall in an interview that will be published on the site. Threlfall asked me, “Should I give to a beggar who comes up to me on the street and just asks for money?”

To which I replied:

In Christian discipleship, we can only ever give ourselves. Money given in Jesus’ name is just the token and pledge that the Christian will withhold no good thing from the one to whom the money is given. So if you are giving money to the beggar to make him go away, you have actually robbed him. God expects us to give the beggar far more. Because that’s what he himself does with beggars like us. He gives himself. Having received him, then, our calling is to give ourselves back to him on the altar of the world. That’s our reasonable worship.  So offer the beggar Christ’s friendship-love, of which your financial giving is gloriously but the smallest part.

Sum it up and ask:

What should we be giving when we are on the streets of Mumbai?

My answer:

At least a day.

You know you’re going to encounter beggars on the trip, so plan it into your itinerary. Take an interpreter. Tell the beggar that you do not have a lot of money but as a Christian you want to give what you can to help, since you yourself received help when you begged for it from God. Ask him or her to teach you about life in the slums. Go visit him or her where s/he generally stays (even homeless people generally squat somewhere). Be a good guest. By all means share the Gospel as your greatest gift. When it comes time to give, give what God has revealed to you is the most helpful gift you can give.

At worst, your gift will likely be more effective than many provided by the United Nations.

When I went to the squatter’s settlement, my hosts pointed out to me the rows of unused toilets built by the U.N. “The U.N. thought the squatters needed toilets,” said Joy, a Korean missionary kid raised and educated through the undergraduate level at Cambodian schools. “So the U.N. built toilets. The locals found them odd and did not use them much. Didn’t know how to maintain them. They just avoid them now.”

Joy is heading to England for year two of her master’s degree in Urban Development. In year one they asked her and the other students what was their goal and vision. Joy gave this a lot of thought and said, “Home. I want everyone to have a place that they joyfully regard as home.”

“That is rather immature,” said her professors, who do not live in Cambodia.

“What would be mature?” Joy inquired.

“Reducing the rate of poverty. Increasing the number of liveable housing units. That kind of thing.”


I am glad for Joy’s “immaturity.” I hope she does not lose it in year two.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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