08 April 2007

The risen Christ is everywhere

On Maundy Thursday, my mother came up to hang out with Annalivia and Daniel while I was at our Upper Room dinner and Dennis was at school. Mom didn't end up leaving until about 9:30 p.m. About 25 minutes later, Mom called from her cell phone. She had happened upon a family who had hit a deer with their van. When Mom asked them where they were from, they said that they were from here. She offered to give them a ride home and eventually it came out that they had been living in their van for the last two months.
The couple is in their late twenties and have been married for five years. He is black. She is white. They have three children aged 3 and under. Her parents hate him because he's black. His parents tolerate her barely because she's white. After he lost his job in a factory, her aunt here in town said that she and the children could come live with them. He couldn't come. He's black, after all. But they had no other options, so she and the kids came here. He went home to Arkansas.
Here, the mom and kids tried to make a life. She had a job, then they found that the 8-month old baby has a heart condition that will require surgery in Rockford, north of here. She was in and out of doctors' offices and clinics, making working almost impossible. When the aunt lost her job, she said that she didn't want the kids in the house when she was home. So they tried to drive around while the aunt was at home. Eventually, the aunt suggested they move out completely. They moved into the van.
On Thursday, the family was on their way to her parents' house in Indiana, even though they knew that they'd have to be split up again. But they had no money or food. They had to do something. Her mother had sent her $40 for gas and tolls. She filled up the tank for $38, realized there was no way she would make it on the toll road that runs by our town, and headed south to pick up the next interstate.
When she hit the deer, the radiator on the van was finished. The headlights were broken. The airbag deployed. Two teens driving behind them stopped and offered to call 911. They were drinking beer, the woman said, and must not have called because no one came. My mom came upon them an hour later in 30 degree weather, called 911, and summoned a sheriff who got the van towed. Then Mom brought the family to the homeless shelter here in town.
They had to leave the homeless shelter at 7 a.m. We picked them up and took them to church then got them set up at a local motel that has a weekly rate of $155. The hotel is not the greatest place to be, but it is warm and has beds and a shower. And there's a laundromat there, all of which is a far cry from the seats of their van and bathrooms in rest areas where they have been taking sponge baths and trying to rinse out clothes for the last few months.
At the same time we were doing all of this, Dennis was talking to the guy who owns the place where the van was towed. We were worried about how much things would cost to have them repaired. A radiator, headlights and a new airbag are not cheap. We had a generous donation of $500 to help with the cost of the repairs, but we were worried it would be far more.
We were also worried about the family's supplies. The baby had one outfit which she was wearing and was filthy. The clothes they had were mostly moldy because they'd been washed out in rest area bathrooms and hung in the cold van to drip dry. And they needed shoes and bottles and suitcases or bags and diapers. It seemed kind of overwhelming.
I had only $200 in my discretionary account, most of which was spent on the motel room. I went to a local secondhand shop that always has cool Christian hip-hop and gospel blaring through the speakers. I picked up a bunch of stuff and at the counter, when asked about the various sizes, told the girls there about the family. They discounted everything 50% and took my name so that they could pass along other things when they find them.
I also got return calls from other pastors who offered to use their discretionary accounts, if necessary. The Catholic priest in particular, was very helpful in figuring out some basics in terms of care for these folks. And then the guy from the auto shop called. The van was done. Dennis and I went to get it and Dennis went in to pay for it. When he came out he handed me the bill and said, "The man's a saint." The bill was $50 to cover the cost of towing. The man had donated all labor and parts, and discounted the towing a heck of a lot. I almost cried.
And then there's my momma, who is just one of the most generous, giving, and compassionate women in the world. She spent the day getting clothes for the family and washing them all up, placing them in new suitcases and getting them ready for us to bring back to them after Easter.
After each new development, I would stop by the family's hotel room to explain what was happening to them. The mother wept openly every time I stopped by their room yesterday. Her husband whooped for joy when he heard about the van being fixed. They kept saying that they didn't understand why people were being so kind to them. In their hometowns, in their families, there was never grace or second chances or forgiveness. Why are they encountering it now?
I told them that this is our job as Christians -- to be Christ to others. The new life we have should change how we live this life, I told them. They didn't understand why this grace is offered now, but they want to, so they're coming to church today.
In the process of all of this, I have received renewed affirmation as to the power and presence of the Spirit in the followers of Jesus. As I said to Mom near the end of the day yesterday, after receiving the gift of that $50 receipt, "The risen Christ is everywhere."
And He is. It's HIM that this family is talking about -- this unseen thing that offers them and us grace abundant -- this reason "why?" which requires us to do better and be better than the standards set by the world around us. In the midst of life -- the pretty and ordered, as well as the messy and difficult -- He is risen. And it is our great privilege as Christ-followers to proclaim Him at church, at the grocery store, in the traffic lane, at the auto shop...
"I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you," he says.
And he has.
He has come to this family, though they might not recognize Him yet. And he has come to me and my family, reminding us again of why we put on His name and call ourselves His.
He has come.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed!

Have a blessed Easter, all.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE it when God gives us the opportunity to bless others. It's so obvious that He orchestrated the timing of this family's "mishap", so that your Mother would meet them and bring about this series of events.

How wonderful that so many people are now reaching out to them, and how sad that it hadn't happened before.

I'll be praying that through these hard times and humble moments, God will make Himself evident to this family.

God is good.
~Leah in Alaska

Amy said...

Christ is Risen Indeed!

What a wonderful reminder of the risen Jesus!

more cows than people said...

wow. wow. alleluia!

Jenn said...

He gives us opportunities to make him proud all the time, doesn't he.
Happy Easter from Kansas

Jimmy said...

wow. i have dealt with similar. good job doing what you do.

it all makes my sitting in the quiet peace of my living room tonight...
well, thank you april for giving this easter evening some perspective.

and the sermon was important too.

Pink Shoes said...

amen. thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Glory and honor and praise are due to Your Name O' Most High. We delight in being Your hands and feet and we are in awe that You would allow us to do this.
Father, multiply blessing upon this community that ministered to this family.
Bless this precious family - take them some place to call home, Lord. Help them find people who will love them for a goodly long time.
So You get the glory - and they get the good!
Rejoicing my Lord that You are indeed EVERYWHERE!
Thank you for sharing this April. What a blessing to me!

A. Lin said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I knew it would make me cry before I got to the end of the story. And it did.

You have provided for Christ because you have provided for this family. I will pray that they will understand grace.

Sally said...

wonderful wonderful- and more wonderful for being true!