Working as a church secretary, I feel privileged to be a part of something great. My tasks vary, but I am quickly learning that the interactions that I have with people now - both members and non-members - have the potential to affect me greatly. There are the everyday interactions, such as prayer request calls, and people who come in to speak with the Pastor about personal matters. Then there are different situations...
Every so often people will come to our church seeking help. Our church is where other churches in our area send people asking for monetary aid or other assistance. Some of the people who come in give me the impression that they are just taking advantage of the goodwill of Christians. Sometimes, though, someone will come in and after speaking with them for a while, I get the feeling that they really are in need, and are embarrassed to even have to ask for help.
Friday was supposed to be a fairly slow day. I finished the weekly bulletin, ordered supplies, made up a few sign in sheets for various church events, and chatted with the Pastor about a youth conference. I took two calls about prayer requests for the same person (word travels fast where I live), watered the plants and started browsing the net for new worship music. The phone rang again, and it was a secretary from a nearby church asking if she could send over a family in need. Of course. I informed the Pastor that we would have guests in a few minutes, then sat back and waited for them to arrive.
I heard the door open, followed by soft footsteps approaching the office. I looked up, expecting to see - what, exactly, I'm not sure. I certainly wasn't expecting to see the very young boy dressed in old holey jeans and a shirt that was obviously meant for a grown man. He smiled timidly at me, then stepped up to my desk and stuck out his hand. "I'm Roger," he said softly, and as I shook his hand a feeling welled up inside me that almost took my breath away. He couldn't have been more than thirteen! I asked him if his mother or father was with him, and he said yes, that they were waiting in the van, and neither of them could speak English. His English was perfect, with only a slight hint of Spanish accent. I told him to please go ask his parents to come in, and that I would let the Pastor know they were here.
When he returned with his parents, I took a moment to observe them. The father was in worn out jeans, much like his son's. His shirt was old and full of holes. His hair and face were dirty, and his eyes were tired, but not sad. He smiled hugely at me, extended his hand and nodded as I shook it. The mother was small, maybe 5'2" and very slender. She, too, wore old baggy clothes with stains on them. She looked up at me shyly, and smiled a small, embarrased smile. I suddenly had the urge to hug her, but I just reached out and shook her hand instead. I told Roger that I could understand very little Spanish, but I would try as best as I could to answer any questions his parents might have for me. The Pastor came into my office then, and he asked Roger to tell us their story.
Roger's parents left Mexico and moved to Texas sixteen years ago, and had him two years later. His father and mother worked in the fields until there was no more work, so they began moving this way, stopping wherever they could find work. Once the work ran out, they moved on. They had been in our area for the past six months or so, and all three of them had been working at a farm for $20 a day. Obviously, that's not nearly enough for a family of three to live on, and they couldn't convince the boss to give them more money. More and more workers showed up, and eventually the boss told them that he couldn't pay to have all three of them work anymore. This whole time, Roger hasn't been in school because he needed to help take care of his family. His father finally decided that they would just go back home to Texas, get Roger back in school and do whatever work they could find.
The Pastor informed them that we had Ministerial Alliance set up for situations just like theirs, and that we would help them any way we could. The parents went back out to the van to find their picture IDs, and the Pastor began asking Roger some questions. He asked Roger where they were staying, and Roger informed us that they had been living in their van because they were spending all of their money on food and gas. Pastor asked Roger to tell us about himself, and Roger said, "I want to go back to school. I want to be an officer someday. I don't want to pick strawberries all my life." I wanted to cry. I asked him if they needed anything in particular, like food or clothes. He gestured to his clothes and said, "What we wear is what we have."
Pastor decided that he would take them to lunch at the nearby deli while I made some phone calls about the monetary aid. I promised Roger and his mother that I would do whatever I could to help them. As soon as they were gone, I started calling people, asking if they had any hand-me-down clothes they would be willing to donate. I had gotten their clothes sizes from Roger before they left, so I had particular people in mind that I thought might have clothes in their sizes. I called and called, praying that somehow we could get something for them before they had to leave. Within thirty minutes people had donated four large black bags of clothes; pants, shirts, socks and underwear for all three of them. I looked at the bags of clothes, and felt like there had to be something else we could do for these people. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of dispair that they might leave and we would be the only help they could get. I couldn't stand the thought of them sitting in their van, hungry with no money. I ran to my house and grabbed as much canned fruit juice and dry food as I could spare.
When they got back from lunch, the mother was the first to walk into the office, and when she saw the bags, she looked at me in shock. I grinned and gestured to the bags. I told her (in terrible Spanish) that we had clothes for all of them, and food as well. She ran to me and hugged me, saying "Gracias, thank you, gracias" over and over again. When she finally let me go, I noticed Roger standing in the doorway grinning at me. He didn't say anything, he just walked up to me and took my hand. He held it for a moment, just smiling, and I couldn't stop the tears then. "We are okay," he finally said to me.
The Pastor had to step into his office to make more phone calls, and while we were waiting, Roger's father began talking in his quick language. Roger translated to me, and after a few moments I realized that the man was witnessing to me. My first reaction was surprise - I am a church secretary, after all - but then I realized that maybe there was something for me to learn from this man. This man, who had been in much lower places than I could ever imagine, who had to watch his wife and child work alongside him in the heat day after day. This man, who sat up at night while his family slept to make sure no one came to hurt them in their "mobile" home. This man, who had every reason to not believe that God loved him, wanted me to know that God loved me. He said that no matter what we face, the hardships, the ups and downs, none of that matters, because when we get to Heaven, God will reward our faith. We must always be happy; happy for our health, happy for our family, happy that God loves us.
Eventually we got everything sorted out, our church was able to help them, and they got ready to leave. They loaded up their "new" clothes and their food, then came back in for a word of prayer before leaving. I hugged them all, and part of me didn't want them to leave. I racked my brain frantically, trying to think of somewhere, anywhere they could stay for a few nights. Somewhere with beds and showers and air conditioning. Not knowing how they would fare distressed me. I knew, though, that our job is not to keep tabs on the people we help. We help them, pray for them and wish them well.
In all honesty, I can't remember most of the faces of the people who have come to our church seeking help. I do know with certainty, though, that I will remember this family, and that I will often think of the sweet young boy with the big brown eyes, and hope that he gets his wish.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me'.......
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"