It was late Friday afternoon. Three battered trucks with all sorts of construction equipment flapping from the truck beds buzzed in beside me. I entered the convenience store ahead of them. As I stood at the ATM, I was rattled by all the truck-driving, young men who stood in back of me waiting their turn. The four reeked of sweat and their clothes dripped from the dirt and concrete which shouted a day of “hard work” to everyone in the 7-11.
I assumed that, like me, they were getting off of work and needing cash from their bank account. Thoughts flew through my mind. I don’t want them to get my pin number. No telling what they could do with it. I quickly punched my pin code guarding the key pad with my body. Carefully avoiding eye-contact with the potential pin-number thieves, I hurriedly, took my cash and receipt and rushed to the restroom.
When I exited the restroom, three of the young men that I’d tried to skit away from, stood waiting for me. “Lady,” the leader said, gruffly, “you left your card in the ATM.” He handed me my bank card, saying, “You really need to be careful. There are people out there who would steal everything you have with this card.” The three companions smiled and turned away.
I was ashamed of my prejudicial assumptions. Yesterday, I was faced with a similar incident. Three Special Gathering members were getting a cup of coffee after working for a ministry for more than an hour. This is free coffee to all ministry members. Special Gathering meets in their building but we always provide our own refreshments; and we don’t take from them. Because these four members work for the ministry each week, they are allowed to get a cup of coffee.
Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community. We exist from the good-will of others. However, at times, we are able to help other ministries. This was one of those times.
Two ministry members came into the building as The Special Gathering members were getting their coffee. The ministry members looked at us as though we were stealing their coffee. I tried to explain to them why were getting four cups of coffee. Finally, one of the ministry members said, “I donate $1 each week for the coffee I take.” He took the donation jar and sat it beside me.
Irritated, I gathered my members and left the room. Later that day, as I thought about the encounter, I realized that I could be making as many false assumptions as I was attributing to the ministry members who had stared at us.
Trucks and dirty clothes don’t make thieves. People who are mentally challenged are usually good and decent folks who merely want to help and be accepted. In addition, harsh stares may not mean a lack of hospitality.
Wylene, my good friend often told me, “Linda, it never hurts to give people the benefit of the doubt.” Too often I forget her sage advice. Romans 12:19 also says, “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written, ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord.”
More good advice comes from blogger and Campus Pastor of the Northwest Oklahoma City Campus of Life Church, Scott Williams. He penned, “Give people the benefit of the doubt, unless they absolutely compel you to do otherwise.”