The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Forrest Hershberger
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Making a Difference

 

On a trip to Central America several years ago, the group I was with was encouraged to be careful giving money to panhandlers and beggars.

A little background. For as dysfunctional as American society is becoming, there are places we are still as a Shangri-la. I remember leaving the airport terminal and being greeted, almost accosted, by children trying to sell what looked like origami from nearby plants.

“Only a dollar,” still rings in my memory. One of our group shooed them away like stray dogs. That was my first visit. The culture shock was real. On a following trip, the tour organizer, shall I say, said not to give money to the street beggars. There are two sides to this issue: compassion and not to look like an easy target, an American with available money. This time, however, I got to witness a young lady drop a handful of coins in this man’s hands as he mumbled incoherently.

A good story, sort of, you might say. What’s the point?

Fast Forward a little. One line from The Blind Side tells the story, much of it at least. Sandra Bullock, the mom, is quizzed by her lunch girlfriends about why she is taking in “Big Mike” when the conversation changes. “I’m sure you changed his life.” “No,” she said. “He changed mine.”

It is a very profound moment. In the middle of the Merlot and overpriced salads, she admitted sharing of her excess and receiving an unexpected blessing.

One of my other trips to South America involved visiting a church on a hillside. The building almost reminded me of a single wide mobile home, built with concrete blocks. In this part of the world, when it rains, it really rains. We Americans were standing in this tin-roofed building waiting to be taken down the hillside when a pastor prayed that our ministry would continue when we get home.

The people we came to serve, to bless, were offering us a continuing blessing.

I’ve eaten snacks made by local families, families we were confident didn’t have food to spare. I’ve eaten meat that just the day before was a goat wandering the yard, eating discarded watermelon rinds.

I haven’t forgotten the people I’ve met in other places, those who barely have a pantry to keep food, and others whose culture has seen little change in centuries. The experiences taught me to walk with my eyes open. Quite honestly, if we don’t see someone in need, we’re probably not looking. That applies in Lincoln, Mexico City, or Sidney.

We either seek and promote change, or be content with how things are. Toward the end of The Blind Side, she asked a profound but complicated question: “Am I a good person?” It is profound because I suspect we all ask that at some point of introspection, and the answer is somewhere in where, and to whom, we look. It depends on your standard, who or what you measure yourself against. If it is perfection, we all fall short. How do we make our community better? We start by addressing identified needs. We don’t sit on our hands expecting someone else to do what we are capable of.

What if needs are not identified, plans made to address them, because we are not asking the right questions? Or maybe we are expecting answers from the wrong people.

When do you see more, a casual walk downtown, or driving 25 mph, or whatever the speed limit is in that block? When you see someone who needs help, by your perception, do you respond with “Bless your heart,” quickly walk by like the story of the Samaritan and the Pharisee, or do you at least acknowledge the other person?

COVID-19 did a lot to the area and the very definition of community. Staff were furloughed and then had to wait for the government check or design a “Plan B.” Families spent time outside, in the sun, just walking. But some of the concerns of our community, of any community, did not suddenly surface with the announcement of a virus. Change is inevitable. The question is if the change is positive, and based on what standard.

We need to take the chance; leave our extra dollars with those in need, offer our extra coat to the person who has an inadequate one; step out and ignore the social standards to help where we can, how we can. In the course of helping, blessing, others, we, too, will be blessed. You don’t make positive changes by building bigger barns for things you don’t use. Change comes by sharing with those in need. Donate the extra coat, clean shoes, coat or whatever. Sidney is blessed with the network to meet needs... when people will stand in the gap.

 

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