Each year our church, and many surrounding churches, participate in a day of community projects. We mend fences, clean yards, paint school equipment and much more. Today's work started off very similar to years in the past. I met up with some friends, we joked around as we coated a deck, and were generally having a good time. Then we went downtown.
Our goal downtown was simply to feed the poor and homeless. But I didn't get very far. On my first lunch I met a lady named Lisa, who asked me to pray for her. I was of course glad to pray for her, and tried my best to pray for her needs. However, it wasn't until after the prayer that her whole story came out.
You see, Lisa looked extremely beat up. Her left eye was swollen shut. The rest of her face was scraped. She could barely walk. I didn't pry much, but gradually she began to tell me what happened. Three weeks ago she was put into the hospital because a man continually bashed her, and severely hurt her knees so much that she had to have surgery. After coming out of surgery she was placed into detox because of how frequently she drank. She repeatedly told me she drank to deal with the hurt of this world.
Last night she was finally released from detox. Upon being released, she was left out on the streets to fend for herself. There again she was beat so bad that her eye swelled shut. The police, she said, overlooked what was happening. The centers, after I asked her if she had sought help from them, weren't much help at all. And so she said she couldn't really eat the food I gave her because she was drinking her pain away and she might throw up.
I didn't know what to say. She would say things like, "Don't worry about me. At least I'm not six feet under. The Lord blesses me with that." And, "I'm so tired of being sick and tired." I've heard these things before, but not from someone I couldn't easily write off. Not from someone I couldn't feel self-righteous over and condemn them for making poor choices. No amount of Republican indignation and American independence protected me from feeling her plight.
I don't know her whole story. I probably never will. But I didn't know what to do to help. My measly meal did nothing for her. She didn't even take it. My prayer did have an effect, because God is powerful. But I got back in my van and left her there. Her? She has another night on the streets where she hopes to stay alive.
What can be done in a world this broken? How come I get to come back to my comfortable home and worry about my petty problems? Are we missing something here? Are the only things we can do is bring a sack lunch once a year to people?
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their trouble,
and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
James 1:27, NKJV
Sounds nice. What does it mean?