She was a pretty girl, (I don't remember her name, but let's call her Joan) walking down the street on a hot Texas afternoon in the town's poorest neighborhood. I got out of the car to talk to her about Christ and invite her to church. Joan was SO receptive and so kind! She said that she'd be glad to come to church and we gave her a ride to her home so she could get out of the heat for a few minutes. It wasn't much of a home. She lived in a tiny converted gas station with the abandoned pumps right outside her front door. We dropped her off and told her we looked forward to seeing her the following morning at such and such time.
Well, Joan didn't answer her door the next morning and never came to church. I followed up on her a few other times after that; but the closest I got to speaking with her was another Saturday afternoon when I knocked on her open door and was "greeted" by a room full of people. The only thing I remember seeing in the room, as I stood in the open doorway with people spilling out onto the stoop, was a bed to my left and people sitting everywhere. Some on folding chairs and some on the bed. They were all just hanging out and weren't a bit rude but not necessarily friendly either. I told them I was looking for Joan and a large older woman pointed to a figure on the bed. Joan was sprawled out on the bed sleeping in the middle of the day in front of all these rowdy people! She roused slightly and when I asked her if she wanted to go to church the next day, she mumbled something incoherently and then dropped her head back down. The heavy woman laughed bawdily and said, "Honey, she ain't in any condition to go ANYwhere!" And everyone laughed knowingly with her. It was like a private joke had been told that I wasn't privy to.
I looked for her a couple of times after that, but never found her. But here's what kept going through my mind. She and I were from two different worlds. Me? I was white bread America and I was going back to my white bread home with my husband and four kids. Everything in my world was "set up" for me to live a "holy" life. To be separated. To shun "works of the flesh". And here I come in my skirt and comfortable shoes thinking that inviting Joan to church is going to change her hell hole life. When I drop her off back home, I'm still dropping her off to her converted gas station. To the men who would use her. To those who probably sell her drugs, and possibly sell her FOR drugs. In my mind I could imagine her saying to me, "What?! Ok....yeah! I'll go to church with you, but guess what? I'm coming back to this mess. I'm having to deal with these people. You can't even relate to my life and I sure as hell can't relate to yours! Is going to church with you Sunday going to change all THIS for me?" And she would have been right. I couldn't relate and going to church with me may even cause her more grief than help.
I'm in AWE of people who give up their lives to go and be a PART of the lives of the poor. The needy. The homeless. The helpless. Mother Teresa, who gave up physical comforts so that she could show love and relate to those poverty stricken in India. I've wondered what it looks like to really minister to people in these seemingly hopeless situations. It seems to me, we can't minister from a distance. It's got to be personal and up close. But that often means giving up what we CAN have top help others get what they CAN'T.
This isn't preaching. I'm not there yet......