I feel foolish telling you this story, but I need to process something that happened.
I’m writing these words over the Pacific Ocean returning home from our family’s Spring Break trip to Kauai. It was great – sea turtles, snorkeling, a rope swing into a big river, some serious rain, but lots of fun.
Food is a top priority on trips. In fact, let’s all just admit that vacations are an excuse to eat. One of our many eating goals was to try the island’s Acia Bowls. I can’t pronounce it, but it was tasty, especially with peanut butter and honey.
Karin scouted the best Acia places on the island, and we stopped at a little store in Kapaa. Inside, I noticed a man in his 20s, with long, blonde hair who was limping badly. He was shirtless and had bandages and open wounds all over his body – feet, knees, torso, face. He appeared to have been in a serious accident.
He had performed his own medical care – no doctor would wrap wounds so poorly. His bandages reminded me of my Christmas present wrapping skills. I’m in the “Needs Improvement” camp.
We exited, sat down to eat, and the same injured man was now sitting at a picnic table near us.
“I’m hurt pretty badly, and I need to call the police and make one other call,” he said, wandering over to our table. “Would you please let me use your phone?”
Hmmm….. He wants to use my phone…
I can hear you screaming right now… Don’t do it!
The Good Samaritan or the Good Fool?
You may be familiar with one of Jesus’s best stories, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:30-37.
The quick rundown: a man is attacked by bandits and cast aside in a ditch. All the rich, respected and religious people choose not to help. The hero is “the Good Samaritan” (Samaritans were a traitorous, hated race of half-Jews), and he lets the injured man ride his donkey and pays for his recovery at an inn.
In fact, the Samaritan tells the innkeeper, “If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.” (v.35)
He essentially hands over his credit card for the sake of this total stranger.
This story is personal for me. It’s no accident the story’s villains are “paid church people.” They represent the ones who should help but don’t. Meanwhile, it’s the most unlikely person who understands Jesus’s teaching to “love your neighbor.”
As a guy who has received a ministry paycheck for 25+ years, I’ve always been terrified of proving Jesus’s story right.
Back to Kauai
I gave the dude my phone.
I dialed the first number for him, and he talked to the police. I attempted to listen to his conversation, but I only heard a few phrases. He finished and made another call. We all watched him closely. I told Josh and Micah to get ready. If he attempted to run away with my phone, their assignment was to tackle him and get it back. It didn’t occur to me he might have a weapon. I’ve watched too many movies.
He finished the call and gave the phone back: a two-minute call to the police at 12:12pm and an eight-minute call to an alcohol rehab center at 12:14pm.
I asked what happened to him.
“I ended up in the back of a pickup with a guy who said he would give me a lift,” he said. “The driver ended up turning down a road I’d never seen before so I freaked out and decided to jump out of the truck. He saw me stand up with my gear and swerved, and I fell out. I don’t have anything – my phone, computer, everything is still with him in that truck. I don’t even have shoes.”
Odd story. Fuzzy details. Certainly not the whole picture.
But it didn’t stop me from giving him a pair of Josh’s old shoes.
We gave each other a fist-pump and exchanged names:
“God bless you man.”
“Next time, let’s meet under better circumstances.”
The Middle of the Night
At 3am I woke up thinking about Stanton and started sweating.
You know, Jim, that phone has all your personal information on it. Apps with your bank accounts, investments, access to email, everything…
I googled, “Borrow phone scam” and was met with a barrage of bad news – an epidemic of crooks all over Hawaii borrow phones and Venmo themselves money or quickly access highly sensitive passwords.
I’m a freaking idiot.
I cursed at myself and leapt out of bed, grabbed my laptop and hid in our hotel room’s bathroom to let everyone sleep while I assessed the damage.
Dear Lord, those wounds looked real on that guy. Was it all an act?
I started checking everything. Recent activity on my apps. Venmo. Scheduled bank transfers. Nothing. Then I noticed someone had used my Apple Pay to download a Nikon Camera app that gives remote access to photos.
He’s got all my photos.
I started scrolling through my pictures – lots of private info.
We’re supposed to fly home today, and I need to shut everything down – credit cards, credit report, bank accounts, investment accounts. How are we going to do this? Lord, I’m pissed. Is this what I get for trying to help this guy?
I started changing all my passwords – email, banks, everything. I made sure everything had multi-factor authentication. I read everything I could find on ID theft until it was time to wake up the family and head to the airport.
Real Need and Real Thieves
Question: How do you help in a world filled with crooks?
What if the injured guy in Jesus’s story turned out to be a thief and the rich, religious people were smart to pass him by? What if he checked into that hotel and ran up an enormous tab for the Good Samaritan to pay?
Like all of Jesus' parables, these aren't just nice Bible stories. We face the questions and challenges they pose today.
How do I know the homeless person at the stoplight isn’t just wanting money for booze?
How many drugs have been purchased with dollars conned from generous people who think they are handing over “bus fare?”
How many seemingly good charities or churches, for that matter, end up squandering money or catching an embezzler?
In my early days of ministry in Boulder, Colo., I remember the Boulder Police once telling our church staff, “Please don’t give money to people who are panhandling. You’re just making our job harder and even putting us in danger.”
And yet Jesus was always helping people, spontaneously. People who were sick or hungry or hurting. I don’t know any teaching where Jesus said, “Be sure to research your generosity in-depth before you help. In fact, only do end-of-year planned-giving.”
Jesus was a generous opportunist.
Those opportunities in the Kingdom of God spring up quickly and often don’t have time for google searches to check for veracity. I'll admit, I'm confused. What if I help and Stanton is off wiring himself my 401k?
Unresolved but Resolved
I’ll land in a few hours and check my accounts. God, I hope they aren’t empty. The question of whether I was conned is unresolved.
The rest of the family thinks Stanton was legitimately in need. It turns out it was Josh who downloaded the Nikon app. Okay, phew…
I found Stanton (not the actual name he gave me) on Instagram. He appears to be a real person who just moved to Kauai six months ago from California. I know his last name, unless of course, that’s a ruse too.
Am I too suspicious? Or too gullible?
As I wrestle with both the practical and spiritual implications of Stanton, I can’t escape this thought: Perhaps generosity means you will sometimes be taken advantage of.
And maybe generosity, by God’s grace, will expand the heart of the person helping and redirect the person thieving. Hey, it worked for the priest and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, I tell myself.
Maybe it will work for me and Stanton too.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! And please feel free to pass this post along or share on social media.