As a minister, a youth minister that is (who apparently is in his office too much) I get the chance (or the shortest straw) to meet several people who come to the church looking for some kind of help. We call this the Back Door Ministry. The needs range from bus tickets for local transportation to sometimes the Greyhound. Food, prescriptions, clothes, boots, money, a night at the hotel, gas for their car, utility bills are all needs that have been presented to me. Most of them are easy, but we never give out cash and never fill prescriptions so, those people leave mad. Others become more complicated as their list of needs grow as they tell their story. We also get repeats; people who come twice a month, sometime more.
We had a guy call down curses on our worship minister. Crazy thing was that this guy could pray. He had a deep voice, strong and energetic, which just fed these amazing prayers. We saw Nathaniel for like 3 years here and there. He came in Dec. 2007 saying that he was moving to Denver and will not be back to ask for help in 2008. He failed to keep his promise.
Our campus minister has this on going pen pal from prison. Problem is that he serves his time and then makes personal visits. I have had a couple of visits with Raymond. We do what we can while he is out. But then we receive another letter from prison. He is one of five of our non-official prison ministry members.
In the summer of 2009 I was helping a young man named Isaac who served some time. He worked part time at La Madeleine. So he had a little income but not much. He stayed with his sister sometimes, until she felt like he was not doing his part around the house or to find a new job and she would kick him out for a few days. I tried hiring Isaac a few time around the church. He was an awful worker, slow, non-efficient, and never on time. I had lunch with him several times. We would talk about job hunting, prison, and his family. Crysty and I were prepared to help him with a monthly bus pass so he could be where he needed to be. We did for two months. Then he stopped showing up. I hope he found a full time job, but I just don’t know.
I have been conned a few times. One guy I met around 8:00 pm sometime in 2005. My wife and I were at Target, and I get this call from our office administrator who is at the church for a prayer meeting saying there is guy at the door who will not leave until he talks to someone and he is being a little aggressive. Crysty and I rush home. I listen to his story and decide to help. I helped with a hotel room, bought him boots for his job, played some ping-pong with him, and bought him some food from Wal-Mart. I helped him for about a week. Then nothing. I didn’t hear from him. About a year later, he shows back up at the church, but this time he is using a different name. Bummer. I bring up the past help and his other name, to which he replies, “I was on the run last year.” Bummer. I gave him a bus pass and sent him on his way.
We once had a lady who came every Tuesday for help. Her name was Elizabeth. We continued to push her toward Central Dallas Ministries, but she said her needs were not that great. She had small requests (except one time our campus minister bought her a diabetic blood test thing that cost him $65). Every once in while she would test the waters and ask for cash, “I need ten dollars in quarters for laundry.” We (I) denied her request. She would get mad and leave. But not without a bus pass, and she would be back next week. She tried going back to school (or at least that is what she told us). We probably saw her for about half a year then one Tuesday she didn’t show up. That Christmas I got a letter in the mail at the church. It was Elizabeth. She sent Crysty and I a Christmas card saying thank you for the help and that she moved to Kentucky. It made me smile.
I wished more of these stories ended this way. With just a letter that says thank you. A letter that contains a little closure. I don’t feel bad, when I can’t help someone out, I do feel great when I do help someone out, but I wonder when I send them on their way if their story is going to change because of the help I have given them.
Jesus one time saw this man who was born blind. He then spit in the mud placed it on his eyes and told the blind man to wash in a pool. So the blind man went and washed and came home seeing. The rest of John 9 is this man telling a new story, a grand story, a story of redemption. As a blind man he was a beggar, an outcast, a person with no story. Even Jesus’ disciples weren’t looking to redeem this man; they wanted reasons for his blindness. Jesus shows us purpose. “That the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Am I looking for purpose in outcast situations? Was I looking for the work of God to be displayed in Isaac’s life, Nathaniel’s life, or Elizabeth’s? I don’t really know.
Today, I helped a couple get to Austin, TX. They have been in Dallas for three days. They said they have visited at least 40 churches asking for the same thing. I could see the hunger in their faces and the tiredness in their posture when they showed up. I bought them bus tickets and some lunch at Whataburger (it’s the go to fast food place for moments like these). I took them to the bus station, purchased the tickets, and handed them over. Last night they stayed in the ER room of a hospital. Tonight they will stay with family.
I may not ever hear from John and Donna King again. I might not ever know why they were stuck in Dallas and not somewhere else, but I do know that the work of God was displayed in their life. And I know that they have a new story to share with their family.