By Femi Aribisala
Pull Quote: The next time you see a beggar, know that there you go but for the grace of God.
I never liked the intrusion of beggars. They can be such a nuisance. They tend to violate your space, even when you are busy minding your business in your air-conditioned car. Children beggars are the worst. They sometimes put their lips against your glass window, leaving behind traces of saliva. Others specialise in pushing their deformities into your face.
Should you refuse to look up from your newspaper, they will still not leave you alone. They will beg, sing and pray adamantly that the secret behind your wealth would remain hidden from the knowledge of the world. Why can’t they just get a job for heaven’s sake? Or why can’t a relation of theirs take care of them?
When you walk with the Holy Spirit, you know you are not supposed to feel like this. But I could not help it. I tried to feel different about beggars but without success. I just don’t like them. God knows I am a giver by nature. As a matter of fact, my entire life is consumed by giving. I give to family, relatives, friends and acquaintances. There is only one exception: I don’t give to beggars. I don’t want to encourage them. Surely God understands.
One day, I went to apply for a visa at the American Embassy in Lagos. At that time, applying for an American visa was a major expedition. To make sure you were attended to, you had to get there as early as five o’clock in the morning. And then you might still be on the queue at midday.
I had waited on the queue for several hours before I discovered that, in my hurry to get there on time, I forgot to bring the money for the visa. There was nothing I could do but go back home and return with the money the next day. But just as I was about to leave, the Holy Spirit told me to remain on the queue. He said: “Femi, when you get into the Embassy, ask the person you sit next to in the waiting-room to give you the money. He will give it to you.”
That directive only served to complicate matters. I said to myself: “What exactly is the Lord up to? Why would an unknown person give me the money for my visa?” On the other hand, it was not inconceivable that I could meet an old friend or relation in the waiting-room. Habakkuk says: “The just shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4). Accordingly, after a brief reticence, I decided to stay on the line.
When I finally went inside, the person next to whom I sat created even more confusion by immediately getting up and walking away. This made me wonder whether the Lord’s plans had been scuttled. Since there was now an empty seat between the next person and me, I decided to move to the empty seat.
Reversal of fortune
Now came the difficult part. I had to ask the perfect stranger seating next to me to give me the money to pay for my visa. That was unfamiliar territory for me. How do you ask a stranger for money? What would he think? Would he believe me if I said I had the money but forgot to bring it? Even if I really forgot, why not go back to get it and come back the next day?
Can I tell a total stranger the Holy Spirit says I should collect the money for my visa from him without sounding like a con-man? What if the man is not a Christian and does not know of the Holy Spirit or believe in him? Would he not think I was just trying to finesse him out of some money?
I started to rehearse in my mind exactly what to tell him when, suddenly, it dawned on me. It was as if someone unexpectedly switched on the light. It was all a set-up. I had been set-up. In the twinkling of an eye, by the masterful stroke of providence, God had decided to teach me a lesson by turning me into a beggar.
All the contempt I had for beggars now came to haunt me. There was I, a man of means with a not-so-secret disdain for beggars, now constrained to join their ranks by asking a stranger for money. Moreover, I would not only be asking for small change but for a substantial visa-fee. Surely, if the stranger were to be as insensitive and judgmental as me, he would tell me to take a running jump into the lagoon.
It took me a while but I finally summoned up the courage. Having rehearsed my speech over and over in my mind, I started to recite it: “Please excuse me, sir,” I said, in the most plaintive voice I could muster. “I don’t want you to think I am trying to pull a fast one on you. But I was in such a hurry to leave the house this morning so as to get a good position on the queue, I forgot to bring the money for my visa.”
The man did not allow me to finish my laboured speech. He said: “That’s all right; I will give you the money.” He answered me so readily; I was convinced he did not hear me. Therefore, I started all over again: “What I am trying to say is that I was really in such a…”
The man interrupted me again. “I heard you the first time,” he replied. “I said I will give you the money. You may not know this but I know who you are. Are you not Dr. Femi Aribisala? Did you not use to work with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi at the Ministry of External Affairs?”
I was completely bowled over by this astonishing display of God’s providence, despite my disdain for beggars. I would have expected him to deny me of the money, as a lesson for my insensitivity to beggars. But the man not only paid for my visa, he even engaged beggarly me in conversation as if I was a friend of longstanding.
He told me he worked in the Administrative Section of Marina Bank. At the time, they were looking for qualified staff in his department. Could I recommend someone and send the person to him to be interviewed? He gave me his complimentary card.
God used this object lesson to teach me that I am what I am by his grace. I now know I could just as easily have been a beggar if God’s providence had so decided. He also taught me that there is nothing wrong in itself with being a beggar. So, the next time you see a beggar, know that there you go but for the grace of God. But if you are a beggar, know you are one also by the grace of God.
“O Jehovah, I know that the way of man does not belong to man; it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. O Jehovah, correct me, but with judgment; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).