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FIRST-PERSON: A lesson on hunger and humility in Aisle 13

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — I completely blew one of those “least of these” tests a few weeks ago.

Craig and I were on our way back to Nashville after a few days in New Orleans. We’d been driving in heavy rain and were pretty tired. As darkness fell, we stopped for the night.

We’d had our last “go for it because you can’t get fresh seafood at home” meal for lunch. After several days of gastronomic indulgence, we decided something lighter, and lighter on the wallet, was in order for supper.

And that’s why I found myself checking out the granola bars in Aisle 13. Dazed and confused by the number of choices, I turned to look for Craig … and it happened.

An older woman brought her cart to an abrupt stop next to me and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Oh, no!” I thought. “Pinned against a wall of granola bars by a Jehovah’s Witness. If this is a test, Lord, I’m going to fail it!”

She was oblivious to my inner turmoil and began explaining to me that her daughter and grandchildren had moved back home to live with her and her husband. They had five people in their house now, and could I help her buy some food?

I had glanced at the young woman beside her and mentally calculated the price of her elaborately braided hair and dazzling manicure. Before the woman paused for breath, I had decided that my answer would be no.

I wouldn’t be writing this if I had politely said no and excused myself. Unfortunately, I proceeded to question the daughter about her choices and criticize her for putting her mother in the position of stopping strangers to ask for money. I eventually slowed down and told the older woman truthfully that I didn’t have any cash, and she walked on.

As soon as I had turned back to the granola bars, I was overcome with shame. Craig reappeared, and I asked him to head for the checkout and get some cash back when he paid. I practically ran through the store, looking for the women, but they were not to be found.

The situation is full of irony — we didn’t have any cash because we had given it all away gladly the night before, to a man who ministers to the “least of these” of New Orleans. And we’ve been the recipients of many acts of generosity from our own parents, especially when our children needed something.

Today I remember my words in Aisle 13 with regret and pray that the family’s needs are being met by another believer or church. And don’t worry — the Scriptures about unknowingly entertaining angels and serving “the least of these” often flash through my mind.

I want to be a generous person who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit when I’m faced with an outstretched hand, no matter whose hand it is. So the pride and arrogance that caused me to joyfully help the one who didn’t ask and spitefully refuse the one who did confounds me. Yes, there was a test in Aisle 13, just not the one I expected. And obviously I wasn’t prepared for either.

Sunday (Oct. 14) is World Hunger Sunday, and many Southern Baptists will hear statistics that will seem incomprehensible and distant. For me, those numbers are represented by one woman who humbled herself to ask for my help. I failed her, but I’ve learned that hard lesson and I won’t fail the next person.

Southern Baptists have the opportunity to help every day by contributing to the World Hunger Fund, where 100 percent will be used to feed the hungry — in Jesus’ name. You can read more about it, and donate online, at worldhungerfund.com .

Won’t you join me in the pursuit of kindness that will reflect the love of Christ and bring glory to His name?
Karen Cole is an editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Karen Cole