People call church offices all the time seeking help. Sometimes they tell the truth. Sometimes they concoct elaborate stories. They always have a need, even if it's not the need they describe. As a social worker friend of mine says, No one goes begging unless they've got some kind of trouble.
Today we got one of those calls in the church office where I work. A woman says she needs $85.00 or she will be evicted. She's talking fast and full of extraneous details. She has a diabetic four year old and a job that starts next week. She just needs some help or they'll be on the streets. "Do you have a lease," I ask. The reply is long, but the answer is no. Can she come by and get the money?
"How about if I talk to your landlady," I ask. "Okay," she says, and gives me a name, a phone number, and the address of her leased home. But she can't quite spell the landlady's name, which sounds made-up.
"I'll call the landlady and call you back," I say. "No, you can't call me," she says. "I'm using a borrowed phone."
I call the landlady. Voicemail. And the name on the recording is not the elaborate, made-up sounding name. I think about ignoring the whole matter. But for some reason, I wait a few minutes and call again. The "landlady" answers. And yes, the quotation marks are real in my head.
The landlady corroborates the story in excruciating detail. The address offered readily, the diabetic child. But the amount owed is different. Uh-oh.
Then the woman adds some more details. She works in a top secret role for the State Department, she says, that's why she has this French-sounding name. And if I ever call her again, she may not be able to answer because of reasons she's not at liberty to discuss.
I explain that I don't want anyone to be homeless and that our church might be able to send her a check if she can wait until later in the week. That would work, she says. A miracle, I think. Eviction avoided, all because of some promise from an unknown pastor. Am I good or what?
She gives me an address for mailing the check. Street and number, followed by a suite number. She repeats the suite number several times. "Got it," I say. We hang up, and I crank up the Google.
Here's what I learn. The made-up sounding name of the landlady doesn't pop up at all. I guess her State Department work is very top-secret. I googled the address of the home where the tenant lives. The tax records say it belongs to someone else, not to Ms. Top Secret Funny Name. I googled the address to which I am supposed to mail the check. It's a budget motel across town. The repeated suite number is just a room number in a shady joint.
I sigh, then chuckle.
The whole story makes me laugh, or maybe I want to cry. The made-up name, the State Department cover (only in Washington!), the repeated "suite" number, the aching need that would cause someone to call a church and create such an elaborate tale.
I don't really want to mail a check, but I probably will. This woman has a need, a big need. And for whatever reason, she couldn't quite tell me about it truthfully.
Jesus, in a couple of places that folks remembered to write down, said, "Give to anyone who asks of you." Life would be easier, I suppose, if I had never heard those words.
But I imagine these two women opening a letter later this week with a check for $85.00. They'll probably think they hoodwinked some do-gooder preacher. I hope they laugh. The world needs more joy.
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