Yes, I'm fully aware that it has been far too long since I've blogged. According to my roommate, Beth Maisano, this is very typical of a first-time blogger. She's an experienced hand and has been doing this for years, so I respect her expertise entirely. If you've got five minutes, check out her very good blog at http://bethmaisano.com/. I'm so very grateful to have such a kind and brilliant roommate!
Before I commence with what I really want to talk about, let's look for some reasons for my extended absence.
1. There has been nothing to write about. Seriously. Nothing big.
2. Very busy. Working full time + full time student = little free time.
3. Spilled water on computer last week. Painful experience. Don't ask.
Having finished with my array of reasons (or excuses, as my mother would say,) I wanted to share the past two hours with you.
The story started a few weeks ago, when myself and three other students were grouped together in class and assigned a group project discussing Christianity and poverty. As this is something I feel very passionate about, I was eager to give a really excellent presentation. Our group worked together smoothly and quickly collected the necessary information - all sorts of graphs, statistics, quotes, and pictures. We even included a little section at the end of "How to Help."
A few days before the project was due, one of the girls in the group, a very sweet young woman named Emily, was walking with me to chapel as we discussed the presentation. We talked about how overwhelming poverty is, and how it often feels as if there is nothing to be done about it. Emily suggested that instead of just telling the class all of the bad news, we ourselves should make a commitment to working towards a solution. And that's how I ended up setting my alarm clock for 4:59 this morning and driving in the (uncharacteristic) icy rain to First Christian Church.
Emily and I spent the early hours of the morning preparing breakfast and lunch for the homeless community of Abilene. We were assisted by a fellow ACU student and some older members of another church. I come from a city that is all too familiar with homelessness, and I've done similar work before, but this morning was very special because I got to sit down and talk with the people I was serving, something that was hard to do at (albeit wonderful) organizations like Star of Hope in Houston.
There were many faces, but I spent a great deal of time talking to Pam, whose wrinkles make her look far older than she is. Pam starts off sentences that seem to have a point at the end, but inevitably goes off on tangents about her past. Normally this would perturb me, but Pam's past is so dark and complicated that its a wonder she wants to talk about it at all. It involves addiction, cancer, homelessness, fear - all of the things you would expect to find in a soup kitchen. But Pam is a little different. She is no longer homeless, although she certainly lives in poverty. She currently has nine homeless people living in her small home. She and another man, Christopher, appear to have taken responsibility for a large group of people spread out throughout downtown Abilene. They take them to the Salvation Army, provide them with a place to sleep at night, and offer food whenever they can. Pam is quite a character, and sometimes you feel like she's not entirely there, but she has a more giving heart than many Christians I know.
I also met a young man named Rick. Strangely, he looks quite a bit like my 13-year-old brother, but with curly hair. Rick and I are the same age. He graduated from Wiley High School at the same time I graduated from Northland Christian. Wiley is situated in the wealthiest district of Abilene, and thus is deemed "the rich kid school," just as Northland is certainly a rich kid school.
Rick does not appear to be rich. His mother is a stripper. On Monday, Rick became a father to a baby girl named Crystal, after his mom. Rick does all the classic "bad kid" activities: sex, alcohol, drugs, etc. He would like to be in the army so he could kill people.
Last year, Rick held his best friend in his arms, trying to administer CPR after his friend committed suicide. By the time paramedics arrived, he was gone. Rick drank himself into a stupor for two months straight afterwards. Apparently, no one at his school noticed anything.
Again, everything I learn from these people must be taken with a grain of salt, and there is the perpetual sense that the conversations you are having are not quite real, but sometimes I think that all they want is for someone to listen to them.
Rick is broken, and you can see it in his eyes. He spends a great deal of time at Pam's house, who appears to be trying to keep him out of trouble. While his mother works at Jaguars, Rick eats barbecue with Pam and listens to her babble about her life's story yet again.
Among a multitude of other things, I was struck by the sense of community these people seem to share. It is an intricate web of social alliances and hierarchy, with Pam somewhere near the top and Rick as a sort of honorary member, as he has a house and a mother. There is animosity and resentment towards individuals in the community, but as a whole, these people genuinely care about each other. What would it look like if the church acted like homeless people? What if we took strangers into our homes? On their way to church on Sundays, Pam and Christopher stop along the way, picking up random homeless people. What would it look like if we did that? I know the immediate objections, but somehow, looking into Rick's clear blue eyes or laughing at Pam's subtle humor, all the objections seem meaningless. Loving these people is a risk worth taking.
I have seen horrendous poverty outside the United States, in places like Mexico and Zambia and China, in situations where one feels helpless to do anything. The people I met this morning are far better off than the orange-haired children who peeked through the church windows in Zambia, but that doesn't mean they aren't deserving of love and help. As a Christian, it is not my responsibility to draw the line at who needs help and who doesn't. My heart lies in overseas missions, but should it also not lie with my neighbors down the street?
All too often, it is easy to dismiss people like Pam and Rick as stupid, or hopeless. Their situations seem to be of their own making, and their reactions to life's events are irrational and self-destructive. What I must constantly remind myself is that none of this matters. It doesn't matter why I'm sharing biscuits with Pam and Rick. All that matters is that they needed help, and I am happen to be on this planet as well.
I know what I'll be doing with my Thursday morning next week.