In 2003, I was serving a mission in Christchurch, New Zealand. For me, a mission was a great testing ground to apply the principles of the gospel which I was so eagerly learning during that time. One day, we came across a man who told my companion and me that he was in great need. He lacked food, money, and other necessities in life. It seemed as though this man was as those whom Alma taught, who were “poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (Alma 32: 4). We began to teach him. Over time we learned a little bit about his life, and his poverty.
Few gospel principles have struck me more than taking care of the poor and the needy, especially as explained by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. He admonished the Saints of his day that,
“Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 4:16-18).
We felt compassion for this man and returned to his home with nearly all of the canned goods in our little apartment. It wasn’t much, but it represented a sincere desire to help this man on our part. A short time later, this man informed us that he had two children who were coming from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island, to meet him and spend some time with him. He was to meet them at the very top of the South Island, a drive of several hours. He choked up and told us that he didn’t have enough money for gas to pick up his children. Again, feeling compassion for this man, I gave him $35 of my allotted mission funds, though it was against mission rules. This represented a huge sacrifice for me. As I recall, that amount all but dried up my bank account. As he received the money, he said that this much money would not cover the cost of gas, because his car had a V8 motor. It was at that point that I knew I had been duped. I had disobeyed the mission rules and suffered the consequences. I later learned that the same man had swindled other missionaries out of hundreds of dollars.
I was angry. Really angry. All I wanted to do is exercise the principles of the gospel that I had been studying and this happens? As I reflect on that experience, I wonder what I would do if I was in that situation again, but this time without a mission rule telling me to refrain from giving money. As I understand King Benjamin, I either help (if I have the means to do so) or have “no interest in the kingdom of God.” That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for dealing with people who take advantage of charitable giving.
Recently, however, I rediscovered a scripture wherein the Lord advises the Saints to “stand in the place of [your] stewardship” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:53). In this particular instance, I believe my stewardship was not only to this man who had claimed to be in such great need, but also the funds I received as a missionary. It was poor stewardship for me to disobey mission rules. Knowing what I know now, if I came across a similar encounter, I would like to think that I would still be willing to help this man. After all, I do have an interest in the kingdom of God. But I also think that I would try to be a better steward of what the Lord had given me. Perhaps I could learn more about the individual so I could better discern how best to help him. Ultimately, as long as I have means to give, the question should not be whether or not to give, but “in what way could I give that would do the most good?”