3 reasons why fear grips us by Travis Sharpe

As much as I hate to admit it, fear sometimes grips me.

I have been ministering to the homeless for over 18 years now. Yet there are many times that, still to this day, I  am overcome with fear. I want to tell you about one of those times. A time that I was disappointed in myself.  It was like I failed at the very thing I am called to do.

The story

On a recent mission trip to the Philippines, Our mission team stopped during a travel day to eat at a fast food restaurant in a very busy town. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but it was comparable to a McDonald’s  or Burger King.

We all ordered our food and then we took our seats in the crowded restaurant. My seat wound up being in a booth, on the inside, crammed all the way against the plate glass window. (I hate the inside of a booth!) On the other side of the window was the busy sidewalk with all kinds of people hustling back and forth.

Just about the time I received my food and began to eat, he showed up. A man literally clothed in rags came and sat down on the sidewalk on the other side of the window! He just sat there and stared at me. We were about six inches apart and only separated by the glass.

Fear strikes

As I sat there I found myself scared to look at him. I actually caught myself turning my head and pretending to be in the conversation at the table. Problem was, I couldn’t hear a thing anyone at the table was saying because my conscious was drowning them out.

I wanted to help him but I was paralyzed. Paralyzed with fear.

After that encounter, my eyes were opened a little bit. I want to share with you some reasons I believe the fear struck.

1. I was out of my element. I was 9000 miles away from home. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a long way! I had never been to this country before, much less this city. I didn’t know who this guy was. I didn’t know anything about his culture or why he might have been clothed in those rags.

All I knew was that I was a visitor in a strange land. And this man was a stranger.

But you don’t have to be 9000 miles away from home to be out of your element do you? Maybe for some of us, we are out of our element in the downtown area of our own city? Or maybe we feel that way when we visit a big city?

But I think it’s a deeper issue than that. Some people have never tried to love others. Some have never looked into the eyes of a person in need. Some people ALWAYS turn their head. That, my friend, will cause you to be “out of your element” every single time an opportunity comes your way to minister to someone.

2. I was Unprepared. Here is the United States I can go anywhere and be fairly well prepared to help someone who is homeless. I am especially prepared in the cities and areas that I have worked in a lot. I know where the shelters are. I know what rehabs to send people to. I know where the resources are.

But here I was in a completely new-to-me environment. I was clueless. I had no resources. I didn’t know the area. Heck, I could barley even figure out how many pesos I had in my pocket much less do a good job paying for anything.

So there I was, completely unprepared to help him, or so I thought.

There is an underlying issue here too. It’s not about the resources we can offer or the referrals we can make. As a matter of fact, the biggest help we will be to someone might not be something tangible at all. It might be a simple smile. It might be a conversation. It might be a hug and a prayer.

Back to the unprepared part. Some of us don’t help because we are simply unprepared. We have no clue what to do. Being 9000 miles away on a short 15 day trip, I had somewhat of an excuse. But there is absolutely no excuse to be unprepared here at home.

3. I was Uncertain.

With my years of experience in homeless ministry in the United States, I can usually draw conclusions as to what someone really needs. I have dealt with hundreds and hundreds of people.

Sometimes people asking for help are not always honest. I have been taken advantage of enough times over the years to be able to recognize it most of the time now before it happens. But I had no clue as to what that might look like in Asia. I had no real history to draw from.

How was I to know if this guy was really in need? What if he was a scam artist? What if he really drove a BMW and it was parked around the corner? (Okay, that last one was probably not the case where I was). The point is that I had no point of reference and I couldn’t feel confident about any move.

I was wrong. You see, sometimes our experience can also be our enemy. Sometimes instead of allowing what we know to assist us, we can allow it to hinder us. Maybe we are guilty of “sizing people up” or “judging” them and therefore we completely miss the opportunity to help them as Christ would have us to do.

I am certain of this. It is NEVER wrong to love someone. It is NEVER wrong to see them as a soul who, like the rest of us, are incomplete without God. It is NEVER wrong to listen to someone and prayerfully consider how the Lord would have me to help.

So what happened?

I know you are wondering what happened. What did I wind up doing? Did I overcome my fear?

Well, sort of. After I came to my senses, I quickly decided that I could buy him a meal and take it out to him. I looked at him and gave him what I thought was the universal sign for “stay right there, I’ll be out in a minute”.

I ordered him a meal but when I finally got it and went outside he was gone. Evidently, he doesn’t know the universal hand gestures that I thought he did.

I was heartbroken. I looked and looked for him but never did find him. I wound up giving the meal to a couple of kids who were very hungry. But at least I left there with a big lesson learned about fear.

What about you? Have you ever had an experience like this where you didn’t know what to do? Let me know!