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What should Christians do when passing a panhandler? What would drive someone toward panhandling? Providence Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., tackled these and other questions with a panel discussion on October 28. The discussion encouraged participants to think about how they should respond to panhandlers as Christians. It addressed issues such as the increase in the number of area panhandlers, our preconceived ideas about them, and circumstances that might result in people begging on the streets.

Sue Prins, director of adult discipleship, and Braden Stradley, director of ministries at Providence CRC, organized the well-attended event as a part of STRETCH, a church ministry that aims to educate and engage the congregation with issues in their community.

Panelists included Sergeant Larry Matzen of the Holland Police Department, Todd Krygsheld, senior community life advisor at the Holland Rescue Mission, and Peter Vander Meulen, director of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice.

Brenda Nyhof, a member of Providence CRC, appreciated hearing the panelists’ varying experiences and viewpoints. “It was a very safe atmosphere to have a discussion and listen to different opinions without the pressure of proving right or wrong. We need each other’s wisdom to help respond in love to a broken world. I would love to see other questions handled in the same manner.”

It was an evening of healthy, genuine discussion offering multiple suggestions that allowed each individual to figure out what they were comfortable with and how they would respond as a Christian. Some respondents decided to give money directly to the missions and shelters that were in place to help and not feel guilty about not giving cash. One woman said she would take the time to pray and follow the Spirit’s leading to try to reach out to the person and possibly share a meal. Yet another participant decided to dedicate some time to volunteer in the shelters to learn more about the people themselves. Even with differing perspectives, all agreed on the need for empathy and compassion. “We need to see the people holding these signs,” said Stradley. 

“They are children of the living God, lovingly created in his image. He values them, and I need to as well,” said attendee Debra Lappenga. “An evening like this is important not only to the church community but also to our greater community. As we learn more about each other, we see how we are similar and how we all rely on each other.”

Vander Meulen agrees with the importance of discussions on this real faith formation issue of how to live compassionately when confronted with requests for help. “I think having these kinds of conversations in a church community is the way faith is formed. It is also where faithful action is born. It takes local church organizers to do that well. Providence really did it well.”

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