As a congregation we have a special fund which we use to help those in need throughout our community. As fate or coincidence or what have you would have it, it's called the Community Care Fund.
In my 8 1/2 years of service to St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring, this fund has been used for many, many purposes. Through it we have helped pay medical bills, light bills, water bills, provide food, purchase fuel for travelers, help people travel to funerals, and pay rent. Usually, not a month goes by that we don't get some request for assistance. And we almost always help. Almost.
There are a few times when I and those helping have discovered that we are being manipulated. That's never a fun experience. Once I was threatened by a person who was "going to call a lawyer in New York City" to force the church to help a woman who I believed was milking the system. The person's comments helped me stick to my resolve in this case and assistance was withheld.
Other times, I really haven't been sure. Those times, I've always approved or asked my council for approval to offer assistance.
There is one woman we've helped numerous times who falls in this category. Over the years, she has asked for help several times. The amount she asks for is never huge. It rarely extends into triple digits. Every time, I've approved her for assistance. After the third or fourth time, I've had my doubts as to whether or not the assistance we have provided should be given or not. I've wondered if she was milking the system. We never received an acknowledgement for helping. Never had any sort of personal connection been made. Even though my secretary and I had visited with this woman, sometimes at length, it never seemed like a relationship would develop.
And I wondered if it ever would. The woman I am talking about is of a different ethnicity, and there are barriers between our respective ethnic communities that run deep. At times, there is still a tangible distrust that can be felt. As a father of two, bi-racial girls, I can tell you that we receive a few glances that tell us such barriers are still around. Fortunately, such looks have not come from my congregation, yet within the surrounding community, they are there. I am positive this was part of the reason it seemed like relationships weren't forming.
Over the years, we have probably helped this woman out to the tune of close to $1,000. And it's taken that much time and that much money for something substantial to happen.
Last week, this woman asked for assistance once again. It was her light bill which ran just under $100. I approved the expense, and my secretary called the lady to let her know we would send a check to the light company. That's when things turned. The woman asked if "the pastor would call her. I'd really like him to pray with me." My secretary texted me her number as I was making a hospital call.
On my way back, I made the phone call and ended up talking to her son. The woman was in the middle of dialysis and couldn't talk. I left my name and number and told him that she wanted me to call her and pray with her. He told me he would relay the message, and I thought that was the end of it. Usually, no one calls back.
Not this time.
The next morning while sitting in the office, the phone rang. It was the woman we helped.
"I need you to pray for me," she said.
"Yes, ma'am. I will, but what exactly should I pray for?"
"Well, I'm on dialysis and it's really taking a toll on me. I need strength to go through this."
"I will definitely do that. Are you in line for a kidney transplant or anything like that? My grandfather received one years ago, and it made a huge difference for him."
"Yes, I just got on that list. It would really be nice."
"I will include that in my prayer. Is there anything else I can pray for?"
"Yes, you can sure pray for my financial situation. I want to work, but I can't with this dialysis. I've applied for disability, but that's taking a while. It could be weeks before I get anything. Pray that I can get the strength to go to work."
"Yes ma'am. I will."
"And I want to thank you and your church for all the help you've given me."
"You are welcome. It is our pleasure to help out when folks are in need. Would you like me to pray for you now?"
I prayed for this woman lifting up all of her concerns before the throne of God. Not everyone might think that this prayer was worth $1,000, but I believe it was a small price to pay to break through barriers, establish relationships, and enter into a place of trust and compassion as we were connected through our mutual relationship in Christ. I do not believe we are capable of changing the world by enacting laws or other such measures. Such tactics, while important in making legal distinctions, do nothing to change the underlying relationships, and it is these relationships which deserve our attention. Time, energy, and money factor in to our ability to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ and bring about reconciliation between individuals and communities. If we are not willing to pay the price, so to speak, such reconciliation will not happen, and I believe we will not have as many opportunities to spread the Gospel
To the generous people of St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring, thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience such a thing. It gives me hope that not only do we make a difference materially but in the spiritual lives of others as well. For we are more than just a charitable organization. We are a spiritual organization that seeks to bring God's Word to people as we offer charity. In this case, it all came together. Let us pray this will not be the only instance.