He walked through the double doors with a kind smile in a room of glum faces. No one expected to find the group cheerful. It was the third Thursday of the month and I was volunteering at the local food bank. And times were difficult for our small town; unemployment was like kudzu spreading too quick too fast.
“Have you been here before?” I asked. He shook his head no. “Well, fill these out and bring them back to me,” I said.
Minutes later he returned and I made a file for this new man in need of food and clothes. I scanned his paperwork in search of his employment record, trying to figure out what he was eligible to receive. Then my eyes rested on the third line of the second page. The word prison nearly jumped out at me. He had been released the day before. Our eyes met again, but this time I didn’t feel compassion, I felt scared. What crime had he committed? How long was he in for? I shifted my weight from one side of the chair to the other and engaged in awkward small talk.
Moments later, he moved on to the next volunteer who filled his bags with milk and eggs, meat and vegetables, kindness and a hard to understand King James Bible.
And on that day I saw a man just released from prison and I clearly saw myself, judgmental and unprepared to minister to real life issues.
But in the defeat of the morning, disappointed that I had responded poorly, God began pouring newfound compassion into my life for those hurting around me. In my town and in my grocery store, at the gas pump and in the parking lot of the library. It was as if I was seeing people for the very first time.
And God has allowed our family to be one of dozens who are serving as missionaries to a church on the other side of town. A once thriving church that has in the last few years declined to a handful of members attending. The once bustling neighborhood is now a havoc of crime and poverty. It sits in a bowl of bedlam; streets muddled with youthful gangs and frequent shrill of sirens blare. And we have knocked on doors and met and prayed with many in the community.
And I have heard the stories of single mothers and alcoholic fathers and children who feel abandoned. And I listen for ways to relate to the man who is drunk on his front porch, to the daughter who is caring for her dying mother, to the girl whose belly is swollen with child when she is so young herself. What do we have in common?
But as we bow our heads, and we pray upwards for help and direction and for a purpose in this life, I realize that I’m praying for someone else but it’s a prayer I desire for myself as well. A prayer of desperation, a prayer for change and repentance and for newness breathed fresh each and every morning.
(Another post to come Friday, but can I share with you that there were 29 decisions made this weekend to follow Christ? God is so very good.)