Empower Series 51: The challenges of a 21st century good Samaritan

The story is told by Jesus in Scripture of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A lawyer came to Jesus to ask him about what he should do to inherit eternal life. In response to Jesus’ question to him about what the Law said, the lawyer quoted, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus asked the lawyer to go and do same. But the lawyer persisted in this questioning and enquired of Jesus who qualified to be his neighbour.

Jesus replied thus:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Jesus then asked the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I had to leave home early on the morning of 14 June 2008 to be at the christening of my friend Bernadette Adjei’s baby boy. The ceremony was taking place at the Adenta Catholic church in Accra at 6.30 a.m. and I was determined to be there for Bern, and on time too.

I got to the church venue just in time for the beginning of the ceremony. As I started to climb the stairs to the main auditorium, a man attempted to stop me and ask something of me. Instinctively I said, ‘Sorry’, and moved on to sit in the church hall. You see, I immediately thought he was going to beg for money or something of that sort. Lately in Ghana, people hang around churches, major events, et cetera, with all sorts of cock-and-bull stories, all calculated to retrieve money. Sometimes, you get accosted by a person who tells you he came to visit a relative in the capital city, didn’t meet him or her and is thus stranded. He then demands money to travel back. If you are lucky, you get to meet the same person a few weeks later, with the same story, at the same venue! One therefore needs discernment!

As the naming ceremony proceeded, and the fathers of the kids being named were called forward, I realised that I had wrongly judged the man who stopped me at the church. He was the father of one of the babies and all he wanted me to do was to stand in as a godfather for his baby, as per the requirement. I was so ashamed that I had seen only through my prejudiced lenses and had not stopped even to listen.

The parable of the good Samaritan was one of my favorites as I grew up and was taught the Word of God. But I face a big challenge as I strive to be a good Samaritan in the twenty-first century. A local proverb in Ghana translates that because most people wear the batakari (which is a traditional garb in the northern parts of Ghana, where Islam is predominant) it is difficult to know who the genuine Muslims are! The Nigerians say that because all lizards lie prostrate, it is difficult to tell which one has belly-ache. It is a situation now of too many crooks taking advantage of the benevolence of good thinking citizens. As my friend Bernadette Adjei said in her contribution to this discussion, ‘the 21st century good samaritan may well end up being the man who is beaten and bleeding by the way side.’

The Ghanaian, the African and indeed global society is encouraged to perform acts of love and service to mankind. My Bible teaches me so too. I read about persons who have opened their homes to total strangers who are stranded and want to pass the night, and travel on again the next day. I read such wonderful stories also in fairy tales when growing up. I have read of people who unknowingly had accommodated and entertained angels. I want to replicate these shining examples. But alas, it is difficult!

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to give a lift to a stranger on the Tema motorway in Ghana. But now, I have to really scrutinise faces and pray for direction from the Lord before I do that. Unfortunately, the face does not always mirror the intentions of the heart. It is with trepidation that one would now stop to assist when one comes across a broken-down vehicle on a highway, especially at night; many such modi operandi are practised by criminals. Just yesterday, a friend recounted an experience she heard. A colleague had stopped to give a lift to a lady who was with two kids, one tied to her back. As he opened the door for the mother, the driver just happened to view his rear mirror and saw two men running from a nearby bush towards his car. He immediately sped off, with the bag the lady with the kids had just placed on his front seat. When he later inspected the contents of the car, he found tools of destruction! It was a robbery gang, with the lady as the bait.

The danger with this fear of being a victim in our attempt at being a good Samaritan is that we have created a society where one is relunctant to do good, to lend a helping hand, and that cuts both ways.

In discussing this issue in the online forum for my Ghana National College year group, my classmate, Isaac Dede-Bamfo, rightly pointed out the other side of the coin. His submission is better not diluted:

Have you considered the situation where you yourself have come to a point where you needed the service or benevolence of people and have been treated the same way as you might have treated people who needed your service? In most instances when people approach us for something, the tendency is for us to brand such people as tricksters or fraudsters who want something from us but it is possible that it is not all of them who are fraudsters but rather people with genuine need.

I happened to expend my last two Ghana cedis (equivalent to two dollars) on snacks I had from ‘Bus Stop’ restaurant at Circle, Accra with the intention of replenishing my pocket at Circle Branch Barclays Bank on a rainy day. I had the rude shock of my life when I got there only to find that that the ATM was ‘rejecting’ my request for funds. I learnt later on that there was a system failure somewhere so all the ATMs were not functioning.

To be frank with you, I had nothing in my pocket; not even transportation back home, that is, Community 18 on the Spintex Road. I had no option but to lament to people at the bank expecting them to have mercy on my poor soul. You can imagine the sneers and anger on the faces of the people I approached. They all branded me as one of those fraudsters. It was there and then that God taught me how the genuine people felt when they approached me for support. I had to walk through the rain from Circle to AMA office on the High street for salvation. I must admit that since then my attitude towards people in need has really changed. I know people have sometimes taken me for granted and have used their tricks to get me to part with my hard earned cash. It is really difficult to discern between the genuine people and the tricksters but the little I can say is that in order for us not to throw the baby away with the bath water, we must ask and trust God for discernment when it comes to rendering service and also offering people alms. Better to err on the side of love

Action exercise

A clear command we have, to ‘go and do likewise’. Think of ways you can be a 21st century good Samaritan and still be safe! But do not lose that desire and eagerness to do good to your fellow man or woman.

Quotes

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” I Corinthians 13:1

“The unfortunate need people to be kind to them; the prosperous need people to be kind to.” Aristotle

“He who has no charity deserves no mercy.” English proverb

“You are much surer than you are doing good when you pay money to those who work, as the recompense of their labors, than when you give money merely in charity.” Samuel Johnson

“He is truly great who hath a great charity.” Thomas A. Kempis

“The charitable give out at the door, and God puts in at the window.” John Ray

“Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

“He who has never denied himself for the sake of giving, has but glanced at the joys of charity.” Anne Swetchine

“When a person is down in the world, an ounce of help is better than a pound of preaching.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton

“English has two great forgotten words: ‘helpmeet,’ which is much greater than ‘lover,’ and ‘loving-kindness,’ which is so much greater than ‘love’.” Lawrence Durell

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo! thine own has reached the shore.” Hindu proverb

“All the other pleasures of life seem to wear out, but the pleasure of helping others in distress never does.” Julius Rosenwald

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

“The giving is the hardest part; what does it cost to add a smile?” Jean de la Bruyere

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Calvin Coolidge

“Let him that exhorts others to give, give himself.” Latin proverb

“Give what you have. To someone it may be better than you dare to think.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“He giveth twice that giveth quickly.” Richard Taverner

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