‘Charity muggers’ are an unwelcome presence on our main thoroughfare, it seems to me.
I have observed the reaction of scores of town centre shoppers, most of them staring at the pavement as they hurry along, endeavouring to avoid eye contact with the intruders.
Just a dozen friends and family members I asked about how they respond. Always stop and talk, two; sometimes, six; never, four.
Of course, I’ve done the same, keep going, that is, especially when being late for an appointment or having run out of suitable conversation. Really, I don’t want to be bothered, my giving to worthy causes has reached its limit and I’m probably not interested in anything new at that moment.
Pretty well all the chuggers I have spoken to actually have my utmost sympathy. The majority of them are of student age, trying to earn some commission so they can continue their degree courses at college or university.
I greet them, encouraging them in what at times must be a soul-destroying job, also making it clear that I have no intention of signing any forms. And I tell them about the agencies I do support and wish them well in their efforts.
As I continue my walk, being thankful that my own teaching work is considerably easier and more relaxed, I also consider how Jesus, the greatest street preacher of all, made contact with passers-by in his day, men and women of such varied backgrounds and circumstances. Although his approach to each one was different, his message was always the same.
There was Zaccheus, for example, the despised tax-collector under the Roman regime, who climbed a tree to see Jesus. “Come down”, was the Lord’s challenge to him. “I want to visit you at home today.” The result of that encounter was a complete turnaround in the little man’s life. (The full story is recorded in Luke, chapter 19.)
Then, in the earlier paragraphs of Luke’s Gospel, appears the account of the religious leader who enjoyed such wealth and prestige and was proud of his commitment adhering to God’s law in minute detail. Jesus’ instruction to him was to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor and become a disciple. There is described a disappointing conclusion – ‘the man went away sad’.
Many more instances can be discovered in the New Testament, but who could forget the tale of the woman drawing water from the well in the midday heat, so culturally out of place (John 4)? She recognised Jesus from his words and his demeanour and made her decision to follow him.
Jesus was not just wanting names on a charity mailing-list, but real people to join his happy band, accepting his offer of forgiveness for sin and a place with him in heaven.
It is still the same call, centuries later. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11, 28).
So, dear chuggers, if you ever read this, be assured that, when I’m not in a tearing hurry to get somewhere, I’ll pause for a while and talk to you, even if no-one else will.