A visibly ravaged and handicapped man with a message board is at the corner of my local grocery store parking lot. His sign says a little about himself and his need: $$$. Throughout several hours of the day, he boldly approaches stopped cars in traffic, further endangering himself.
Often the people in cars around me will give something to him, maybe a sandwich, cash, water bottle or a piece of paper with hope and directions to a social service. That kind response is gratifying to the giver and perhaps silences the children in the car who have asked, “Why are we not helping that poor man?”
I have often asked myself, “What would Jesus do in my driver’s seat?” I can’t stop long enough to build a relationship, nor can I share with him the Gospel through my open car window. “Jesus loves you, this I know” is vapid rhetoric if Jesus in me does not love him in action.
The parable of the Good Samaritan warns me to not be the priest, who is in a rush and suspicious of the true need, nor the Levite, who looks the other way.
Is this poor man my neighbor?
Is anyone in need my neighbor?
“When we take the time to understand why someone is struggling, we are more able to empathize with them and be of help. When we make snap judgments or assume that we have all the necessary information before we do, we’re likely to only make matters worse.” I read from Jim Dennison’s The Daily Article today.
Too often I look briefly at the message board and not at the man. I judge him by ignoring him.
The Good Samaritan in the familiar parable in Luke 10:25-37 covers the naked stranger who has been assaulted. He medicates and binds his wounds, carries him to safety, and pays for his lodgings. There is risk and sacrifice in the Samaritan’s actions.
Bretta, in Orange Mound, is my neighbor though we live 8 miles apart. She lives in a food desert, and a place of many more neglected needs. Her ability to rectify the problems in her midst is mostly absent. She does not want to ask for help. She has no message board. It has taken me 4 years to build an authentic relationship with her and grasp a better understanding of her need, wants, and what she is willing to let me participate in helping solve. She is sacrificing pride in allowing me into her home, and she is willing to trust me in bringing others I trust to help bring her home up to code and livability.
With her permission, I called The Collins Company of Memphis, which has stepped in, assisted, professionally supervised, repaired pipes and wiring, and is addressing structural damages, veneers, and cosmetic needs. Volunteers she trusts at My Cup of Tea are accumulating any of the missing furniture and appliances she needs to live securely and comfortably. Very soon, Bretta‘s home will be stable, and she will have a beautiful fresh start to maintain it.
Her story is a chapter in the unwritten book about the women who work for us at the tea company. They are all lovely images of God, and each is hard-working. Together they are a distinguished and dignified group of single women, single mothers, and grandmothers. None of them carry a message board, nor do they ask for us to fill in the gaping holes and insufficiencies in their homes. Most rent small, 2- or 3-bedroom, one bath homes for their large families. They can only afford the meager and dilapidated real estate in Orange Mound. We are on mission and conviction to help all of them eventually be homeowners, but in the meantime we are neighboring with love in action for those we work with daily and consider members of our family.
I did not know, and most likely you aren’t aware, that those who rent from slumlords are only provided a shell of a home in which to live.
- All appliances are up to the renter to find and install.
- Grass and tree maintenance is up to the renter.
- Pest (think rats) control is the renter’s problem.
- Urgent needs, such as leaks, weak flooring or broken pipes are typically ignored.
- Broken windowpanes creating more drafts and exposure are not the landlord’s problem.
- Rent is due the first of the month with no excuses.
Without an oven or a proper refrigerator, all fresh food box donations, purchased meat and produce quickly perish. Without a washer and dryer, purchased and donated clothes are worn until dirty and discarded. Air conditioning is either fresh air through an open window, which is ill-advised in crime-saturated areas, or a window unit, which can easily be dislodged and stolen, if not framed with a cage that is an additional cost and difficult to install.
I am writing a message board on their behalf.
We are establishing a “HOUSING FUND” for our employees. You may donate through our website here or send a check to My Cup of Tea. Please designate your contribution for “housing fund” in the "special instructions" area online or in the memo line of your check. You will receive a receipt for your tax records.
All of the contributions will be used to purchase appliances and shore up the decay in the houses that are rented. Though the ladies have been patient for years, their living conditions are unacceptable. They have had no voice or respect to complain. Many of our volunteers and customers have generously helped our 3 homeowners and are inspiring our friends and many employees who rent to do likewise. As well, some local banks are offering to coach in securing low interest loans for the ladies who are ready to move out and upward toward decent affordable home ownership in Orange Mound.
If you haven’t discovered a neighbor in need where you live, then we welcome you to join our neighborhood. The needs are identified and solvable, but they are also great.
As Mr. Rogers would say, “won’t you be my neighbor”?