The old woman, dressed in tattered
clothes, stood outside their church
every Sunday. She looked battered
about by life. Her eyes would search
each face as services let out; her hand
begged the gift of a few coins at least.
Few coins came her way, for the grand-
looking church’s membership had decreased,
and those families now worshiping there
had fallen upon hard times of scarce jobs
and tight money. Many people would glare
at her outstretched hand, knowing it robs
their family to give scarce funds away.
A few children would hand over a dime
or a few pennies, throw a smile her way.
Children didn’t see her rags or the grime.
She never failed to ask their name.
The preacher'd offer her food, new
clothing, a bed, but she’d disclaim
need for such; his charity she’d eschew.
For more than a year the old beggar
never missed a Sunday seeking money.
Each week only some children were eager
to see her. Their kindness made her eyes runny.
Then came a Sunday when her spot stood
vacant. Two more weeks she wasn’t seen.
The next Sunday the preacher understood.
A visitor, dressed in immaculately clean
clothing, asked to address the congregation.
“I was married in this church. My husband
and I attended services at this very location,
until we moved to live in a foreign land.
“My husband recently took ill and died.
I returned to find our old church changed.
The neighborhood has grown poor, lost pride.
The members act self-centered, estranged.
“Will the following come forward as called?”
As she read from a list of names, child after
child came. The congregation was enthralled.
Then, from the gathered children came laughter.
The church was filled with shouts of surprise,
as each child carried an envelope with ten
thousand dollars to their families. This prize
would mean relief, joy to them again and again.
“More than a year, I stood outside each Sunday,
as most of you walked past my outstretched hand.
I wore rags and appeared homeless. In every way,
you appeared richer than I. Yet, with such offhand
“disregard, you ignored me in my hour of want.
Only these children whose names I today read
showed me charity. All others, guilt should haunt,
remind them to be charitable to all in need.”