A grace encounter

Many of you know I’m in the process of leaving the inner city church where I’ve served for the past 7 years. I wasn’t looking, but God brought an opportunity and wouldn’t let me ignore it. This is my last week, so I’m cleaning and packing up my office in an attempt to re-enact the miracle of bringing order out of chaos… at an extremely local level, of course. I may win yet.

I’m the only one from the church staff here right now, so my music is loud. The pregnancy care center is open, so just a few minutes ago, a 20-year-old who came into my life with her younger sisters and brother when she was 13 just scared the snot out of me by walking in while my head was stuck in the cupboard chasing stray children’s outreach crayons out of the back corner.

You need to know that L and her siblings are some of the poorest kids I’ve ever known. To make matters worse for them in our neighborhood, they are destitute and caucasian. Very few people want to help folks in their situation. I guess it comes from some mistake belief that white people have more opportunities – which may sadly be the case someplace, but it isn’t when you’re talking about the urban poor. Our church sees lots of poor folks, of every description… we believe that Jesus was color blind, so we just love people no matter what.

But, back to L and her family. One summer, I took the younger kids to summer camp. They came to the bus with nothing, because that’s what they had – the clothes they were wearing. L came to Ocean City, NJ with my youth one year, with equally little. They went home with the basics – canvas tennis shoes, underwear, shorts and t-shirts and a swimsuit and beach towel. I had to hold back, not wanting them to feel ashamed; in fact, I let them “win” the clothes for helping set the tables for dinner and by “testing out” the showers to make sure they were working well. I met their mom and dad once, before dad disappeared and things got even worse for them. Mom didn’t seem to understand how to care for or help her kids… they were dirty, their teeth were the worst I’ve ever seen, they came and went at tender ages… and boy could they eat!

I see them around the neighborhood from time to time, pass hugs, have “check-in” conversation, and marvel inwardly that they’ve survived thus far. I’ve had the privilege of serving them the whole time I’ve been here, though they’ve heard the gospel, and responded to it, they’ve never felt comfortable being in church because of their situation. Until today.

L came by to ask permission to come to church here, they really feel like they should and ours is the only church that’s ever showed caring to them. Hearing that come from her mouth was elating and crushing at the same time… even now I’m near tears.

They’ll be here Sunday, nope they don’t need a ride, she said.

Thanks God that L came by today, at the perfect time to comfort me that you’re taking care of all the people you’ve given me to love in your name. Thanks that your Word planted and nurtured bears fruit in beautiful and unexpected ways. Thanks for my time here. Thanks that we all can belong to you. Thanks, Lord, for the places where life meets your grace.

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