Professional Beggar Becomes a Happy Giver
WALKING with difficulty, I was on my way to visit neighbors when a ragged beggar shouted out: “Jorge, don’t you beg anymore? Did you get rich?”
Yes, I am Jorge. I was a professional beggar for 15 years, but I do not beg anymore. I answered: “Yes; I am now richer than the owner of the sugar mill.” In northeastern Brazil, sugar-mill owners are among the richest people.
He gazed at me in astonishment. Taking advantage of his silence, I added: “Look! Here is why: ‘The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.’” (Prov. 10:22) I explained that, even though I still had little of this world’s goods, I considered myself to be rich. Why? Because I had come to know the true God, felt his blessings in my life, had made true friends, and had a job and enough to eat.
My former begging companion was flabbergasted. “How could you give up begging?” he wondered. But you might wonder why I became a beggar in the first place. Here is my story.
I was born in 1930, paralyzed in both legs. At the time, my family was living in a small town in the state of Paraíba, Brazil. Our sustenance came from farm work. To help our parents, my 11 brothers and sisters and I had to work on the land too. Crouching on the ground, with my hands supporting my body, I worked as well as I could. Dad had to work from early morning till late at night every day of the week. He enjoyed no free Sundays, no holidays. And at the end of the harvest and after paying the rent, what was left over was not enough to buy clothes or medicines.
On the brighter side, I inherited a love of music from my granddad. I learned to play the violin and accordion and for several years we played at lively regional festivals. But when I was 14, Dad became ill. In order to buy remedies we had to sell all our belongings. How I cried when my violin changed hands. It had given me so many hours of happiness. Sad to say, Dad died soon after, and within five days Mother followed him. Twelve orphans were left behind—poor, hungry and not knowing what to do or where to go.
Well-meaning persons who did not really know the Bible told us: “Accept your lot, children. It is God’s will.” With this shattering outlook we separated and each one went his own way.
How would I survive? I moved to Santa Rita and resorted to playing music again at local festivals. But I had to hire the instruments and many times I did not have enough left to pay the rent for the hut where I lived, handicapped and hopeless.
One day I was invited to play at a folkloric festival. My physical appearance must have caused some comment, and I related my distressing situation. One person after another showed pity and told me: “Come up to my house. I’ll give you a hand.” And that’s what I did. I began to get presents and I thought that a beggar’s life wasn’t so bad after all. Before long I had a regular routine. Next I found a consensual companion. The clothes, shoes, food and other things I was given on my “route” were sufficient to keep us.
My physical handicap was real, and that is true of many other beggars too. But, as I soon learned, many who live on charity are strong and healthy.
Some beggars master the art of simulating sadness and piety, imploring compassion. As an example, one of my former “colleagues” managed to raise his large family exclusively from alms. On many occasions he traveled to Rio de Janeiro, a distance of almost 3,000 km (1,860 miles), to “work” where income was higher. Once he walked all the way, guided by one of his children, begging from town to town, pretending to be blind. When I occasionally met up with him, he would say: “Jorge, there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine, really fine.”
A woman who lived near me pretended to be a widow, always dressed in black. In reality she had a husband, two children and owned a house. Besides receiving money and food, she would also get new dress materials, which she promptly sold. While she was “at work,” her family took it easy at home.
Another beggar employed a different ruse. She would pick up a dirty, crying child from the neighborhood and carry it through the streets, lamenting: “Have pity, for God’s sake. Help me to buy milk for my baby.” Of course, the crying child inspired pity, and many passers-by were quick to give her some money. Then she returned home and handed the child over to its real parents, paying them a small fee for the “hire.”
Some beggars used printed cards that may say, “So-and-so, living at such and such a street [which does not exist], is blind and needs your help to care for his children.” The beggar gets on a bus, hands a card to every passenger, then turns around and picks up the cards and whatever donation is added. Others exhibit wounds and bruises and beg for money to pay for an operation. They tell the same story year in and year out but never have an operation.
Also, a beggar’s intimate life is generally quite promiscuous. I was no exception. As soon as I got tired of one companion or when she annoyed me, I simply sent her packing and took in another.
Can such a dissolute life bring real happiness? It certainly did not give me any.
I Longed for a Way Out
Many times I felt ashamed of myself and had fits of crying. I kept saying to myself: “Some day I’ll find a way to abandon this beggar’s life, with God’s help.” But I did not know the true God then.
Certain incidents made me think seriously. In Campina Grande, my begging companion got drunk and in one bar the men shouted: “Go to work, you lazy bum, you idle, drunken rotter.” This cut me to the heart, since I viewed begging as the only means for one in my physical condition to make a living.
When I felt blue, some persons who regularly helped me would say: “You are not a beggar to us. We like to help you, Jorge.” Nevertheless, more often than not, the reception was the opposite. One man shouted at me, “Go to hell and ask for alms.” It made me sad. Would I have to go on like this all my life?
One day I took a bus home after a begging expedition in the state capital. A young man sitting beside me started a conversation. He pulled out a Bible and showed me that it is God’s purpose to end all sickness, frailty, hunger and even death. (Isa. 33:24; 35:6; Ps. 72:16; Isa. 25:8) I had never heard anything like it. “God’s purpose is to transform the whole earth into a paradise,” he said. A paradise? This made me listen! I thought to myself: “Here’s your chance to leave this wretched life of begging for alms.” We made arrangements for him to visit me. Right at the agreed hour the young man came to my humble home to continue our discussion.
As he was leaving we made another date. But when he had gone I remembered that at the same time I was to attend a session at the voodoo center that I frequented. All week I pondered: “What should I do—study the Bible or go to the voodoo session?” I made my decision: I would study God’s Word. And I have never regretted that decision. In fact, after some weeks of study I learned that the Creator condemns all forms of spiritism. (Deut. 18:9-13; Rev. 21:8) Wanting to please God, I soon gave up my voodoo connections and began to associate with the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses where the young man attended.
Giving Up a Beggar’s Life
I realized that I could not be a Christian and a beggar at the same time. For the Bible standard is: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10) But how could I get work? In this part of the country it is hard to find work if one’s body is sound. How much more so for someone who does not have the use of his legs! What could I do? Lovingly, one of the Witnesses taught me how to make coconut confectionery. However, despite my efforts, what I sold was not enough to live on. So I continued begging. My heart fell. Was all lost?
One day I was shown what the Bible says at Psalm 37:25: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.” That impressed me. Was the psalmist right? I had to prove it for myself. I needed to change from my outlook of self-pity. So I said to my companion: “From next week on I shall no longer go begging for alms.” She was stunned. “How are we going to live? We’ll die of hunger!”
“I have confidence that Jehovah will somehow provide for our necessities,” I answered. “He knows what we need even before we ask him.” I thought of Matthew 6:31-34—the promise that God will bless our efforts to obtain material needs if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
Jehovah has been very good to us since then. Never again have I held out a hand to ask for bread! I’ve managed to provide our necessities by work. The psalmist was right. What happened? The Witnesses in the local congregation gave me further advice and help in obtaining raw materials for confectionery, which I continue to sell. Additionally, several times a week I would gather up old paper in the city and sell it. A little later, the Witnesses assisted me in applying for a small monthly invalid’s pension. Indeed, Jehovah has proved to be a loving provider, through the assistance of the Christian congregation.
In time I learned God’s standard for marriage and legalized my union with my companion with whom I had been living for several years. Then, on April 13, 1975, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah God, through Christ Jesus. More and more I got wrapped up in congregation activities, even conducting one of the congregation’s Bible studies each week. This opportunity to do things for others had brought me great happiness.—Acts 20:35.
At first, my wife was a little apprehensive about all this activity. But to my great joy, she too began to take the study of the Bible seriously, and now shares with me in telling others the good things we are learning. Our 10-year-old adopted daughter participates with us too.
Sometimes I meet former street companions. When they ask me why I gave up begging I do not shrink back from telling them. Moreover, I have also explained to all those kind people who helped me when I was in need what freed me from a beggar’s useless life. Really, I changed from a beggar to a giver, encouraging others to “take life’s water free.”—Rev. 22:17.
Knowing that the problems genuine beggars in sad circumstances face are unsolvable in this present system of things, I make an effort to help them see what God has in store in the near future. Some listen attentively. Others ridicule. But I am convinced that the Bible’s promises are dependable.
The thrilling possibility of getting a healthy body in God’s new order fills me with indescribable joy. With such a body I wish—not to go begging—but to lend hands and legs to realizing the hope that was the starting point for me to abandon the life of a beggar: The prospect of helping to make the earth a paradise, where “there will come to be plenty of grain” for everyone. (Ps. 72:16) Then there will be no reason for anyone to go begging.
[Blurb on page 21]
When Dad and Mother died, 12 orphans were left—poor, hungry and not knowing what to do.
[Blurb on page 22]
‘What should I do—study the Bible or go to the voodoo session? I made my decision.’
[Blurb on page 23]
“I realized that I could not be a Christian and a beggar at the same time.”