Thursday, August 24, 2006

Two Meals and Malnourished Churches

Sunday morning I had breakfast at Albertson's with a friend who is a disabled woman who asks for money on a street corner. (I'll call her Ann in this essay.) She's looking for a church. Her old one closed down about a year ago, and she misses worshipping in a group and having that kind of socializing. Messianic Judaism does not interest her, so I am helping her find a church.

She is afraid of trying new things. Her fear is largely understandable: if a sidewalk is uneven and her electric wheelchair gets stuck, what would she do? The world is a more genuinely threatening place for her.

We walked to a church before our breakfast to say hello to the pastor. Meeting an individual is much less scary for her than visiting a group. By the front doors someone who was arriving early for the morning Bible study smiled at her and said, "I saw you, but it was too much trouble to stop at the intersection." He gave her $2.

My friend has visited that church before, and its people drive by her every Sunday, but no one from the church has ever stopped to chat with her at her corner. (There is a parking lot which makes stopping easy. But it takes a few minutes.) She was grateful for $2, but saddened that although she rarely makes more than $10 in a day at her corner that option seemed a safer bet for income than visiting a church, based on past experience. She also does not want to feel like an irritant: like someone only receiving help because her presence is making people feel guilty.

After breakfast she had a small panic attack and decided not to visit that church. She went back to her corner. I tried to use my phone to pay her phone bill. Then went back to the church to visit its Bible study and prayed by myself a bit. Among other things, I prayed for God to use that church as he wants to. I donated some money; it did not seem proper to ask God to invest in something which I was unwilling to invest in.

Then I went back to my friend at her corner. We talked and prayed more. I told her that the automated phone bill system had told me someone had already paid that bill; maybe it was a computer error, or maybe someone had anonymously helped her. That was encouraging to her. She told me that she wants to visit a church even more strongly, but still needs to work herself up to it a bit more. We'll try again next Sunday.

I had three objectives in mind while meeting with my friend:
  • enjoying eating and talking and praying together
  • building her desire to find a new church
  • helping her feel that God was caring for her through many people, not just me
  • myself meeting the pastor and having some excuse to do lunch with him some day
Even though she did not visit that church (except briefly saying hi to the pastor) all those objectives were accomplished. It's just sad that the third goal was accomplished through what was possibly a computer error.

Tomorrow I'll phone some of my pastor friends and see if any of them can commit to their church helping Ann, as a church. I sent out an e-mail earlier, but got no responses.

Ann does not need much to suppliment what she receives from social services. She is a kind person, prays earnestly, and can do work on the phone or with a computer mouse (but not many hours or she would loose her social services support). There must be a church in town near a bus line that would be a good fit. Once an e-mail I sent out resulted in a recliner for her apartment, from a church that had a chair to spare.

Today I had lunch with a homeless fellow who lost his last three jobs (in short succession) when the employer found out about a back injury from a previous job. He is living in a tent as he waits for his lawyer to settle the worker's compensation claims. He has a better corner than Ann and can get $20 on a good day. It pays for his bus fare, food, toiletries, candles and batteries, and perhaps some day a decent pair of shoes.

He also would enjoy going to church, but did not know where to go. He knew churches that were collecting money to fund church programs and pay salaries. He did not know of a church to go to for caring people, legal assistance, or a pair of size 10 shoes with decent arch and heel support. There are such churches, but word-of-mouth is failing to link their people with his needs.

I had not met him before, and do not know how much to trust his story and apparent integrity and sobriety. I bought his lunch (fish and chips). He introduced me to a very relaxing and out-of-the-way bench beside the creek near the fish and chips restaurant. We prayed. I gave him a little money but not much.

I have a friend who is an elder at the local Chinese church and an acupuncturist. This homeless guy knew that acupuncture might well help his injured back, but had no idea if his insurance covered it (one completed claim ensures him full coverage for back care but this might not apply to acupuncture) and had not thought to inquire. My friend said he would not mind having this guy stop by with his insurance card and checking out his coverage. If that actually happens I might offer to take him shoe shopping.

Eugene has a pastors' prayer group that meets monthly to pray for the city. That's how I have friends who are local pastors.

As I write this I am not worried about either of these needy people. They both have stories of God's care for them and trust that God will continue to care for them. What I am worried about is whether either of these needy people have visited my pastor-friends' churches, and if tomorrow's phone call will be of any more help than the unanswered e-mail.