Saturday, February 13, 2010

A God Story

This is the first draft of a story I'm working on for the church's upcoming newletter. It is likely to change a bit but I wanted to get something out there to prove I'm still Living the Word, or at least using my gift in His service:

On December 30th, 2009 John woke up with a plan to spend a portion of his day serving God. He was to visit several extended stay hotels to help distribute one hundred sack lunches to the children who live there, children who call the hotel rooms “home.”

He and his wife Kathy had participated in a few community outreach service projects in the past, but neither claimed to be immersed in missional living. Yet, on this day, the parents of three wanted to serve not only to help others but to give their children an opportunity to bless others with their good deeds.

The family of five piled into the car and headed for their first stop not knowing what God had in store for them.

Shalihia sat at the little table tucked in the corner of her hotel room, her head heavy in her hands, wondering what she was going to do. She and her two young sons had been living at the hotel for nearly three months and the cramped quarters were wearing her nerves thin. Christmas had passed without gifts for her children, and with their father in prison she hadn’t had anyone to share the season with. She and her mother hadn’t spoken to each other since October.

Back then, facing her mother’s ultimatum to either be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness or leave home, Shalihia stepped outside into the cold taking with her only the clothing she and her sons were wearing. The twenty-four year old mother and her sons spent their first night homeless in the frightening surroundings of a shelter. They eventually made their way to the Norcross Cooperative Ministry where she received help to secure a room at the hotel where she now lived.

John and Kathy reached the first stop, an extended stay hotel in Norcross. They had heard of the growing numbers of families moving into the hotels after an eviction or foreclosure followed shortly behind the loss of a job. The children living with their parents in the hotels often received their only nutritious meal at school. For them, when the schools are closed, there are no such meals. For some of them, the sack lunches the church people brought would be all they would eat that day.

The couple stepped into the hotel lobby to deliver a box full of the sack lunches. They were greeted at the front desk and the attendant began to call the residents to announce that lunch had arrived.

Shalihia looked around her room. Her hopes had been high a few days before when all was on track for her to move into a nearby apartment complex, only to come crashing down when she discovered her identity had been stolen and her credit ruined. Now the required deposit was beyond her ability to pay. Making matters worse, her employer, having troubles of his own, was days late handing out paychecks. She had only a few dollars in her pocket.

Shalihia looked out the window and thought of the woman down the hall who watched her children while she worked, and remembered the woman’s words: Don’t worry, have faith and something will come through.

At that moment Shalihia’s telephone rang.

John and Kathy watched as a few timid parents walked across the parking lot through the cold to receive lunches for their children. When it seemed they had served everyone they began to pack the remaining bags to go to the second stop. John looked up and saw a young woman approaching.

“How many children do you have?” he asked.

“Two,” she said, giving an appreciative smile as she took the lunches. She turned back to return to her room.

Kathy, thinking the young mother might be hungry too, tossed her husband a third lunch. “Go after that woman and give this to her,” she told him.

Nearing her room, Shalihia heard a voice over her shoulder. It was John. “I forgot to give you a lunch,” he said, and handed another to her. She smiled a second time and thanked him again before turning around once more to go inside.

“In what was probably only seconds,” John recalled later, “I felt God prompting me to ask her if she needed anything else, and at the very same time I was nervously asking myself if I was prepared for what might come if I asked her.” He drew a breath.

“I was headed in the door when I hear his voice again,” Shalihia laughed when describing her encounter with John. “That man asked me, ‘Is there anything else that you need?’ I couldn’t believe it because I could tell in his eyes he really wanted to know. All of a sudden words just started to spill out of my mouth.”

John learned everything about Shalihia’s circumstances: her mother’s rejection, her delinquent paycheck, her credit in ruins, and her despair about her children having to live in a hotel. “I was stunned,” John said. “I felt so burdened by her situation that I knew we had to do something to help her, I just wasn’t sure what. I promised Shalihia she would hear from me again, and for the rest of the day I was preoccupied with her, wondering what God wanted us to do.”

John and Kathy decided to help Shalihia with the deposit she needed for the apartment, only to realize she had nothing to move into it. “We couldn’t let them sleep on the floor,” Kathy said. The couple began to spread word of Shalihia’s story to their discipleship groups, friends and neighbors. As other’s learned that the single mom and her sons had nothing but a few clothes, donations of gift cards, furniture and household items began to pour in. Dozens of people, some complete strangers to John and Kathy, mobilized to help Shalihia furnish the apartment.

“A few days after I got those lunches,” Shalihia explained, “the front desk of the hotel called and it was John on the phone. He told me to pack my bags; he said I was getting out of there! When I told my four year old son we were moving into an apartment, he said “Mommy, God is good!”

John helped Shalihia move into the apartment just four days after meeting her.

Kathy invited Shalihia to Perimeter, first to meet Kathy’s cohorts in Community Outreach, and later to attend a WOW meeting where Shalihia told her story. “I knew that God was at work in my life because I could think of no other explanation why people I didn’t even know would be showing me so much compassion and generosity.”

On Kathy’s invitation Shalihia began to receive guests to help her with Bible study group. She also attended A Taste of Perimeter and began to grow attached to the people she met. “I could feel the Holy Spirit as I listened to how others were living to love and serve people just as Jesus had done. Amazed at how God has blessed me already this year, I realized I wanted to commit myself to Him.” Shalihia has since accepted Christ as her Savior and is planning to attend the upcoming Inquirers Seminar.

“Before I met John, I remember thinking maybe I would go to my mother’s church and get baptized just so I could move my children back into a home, but now I’m so glad I didn’t. Now I know God because he showed himself to me through other people’s love, not their coercion. I wake up every morning now and instead of being filled with worry I think about how much God has blessed me. I know that he is real. God is real.”

John and Kathy, already faithful believers, grew closer to God through their experience helping Shalihia.

“I learned that I really could depend on God,” John explained. “When I sat down to write that first email to my friends asking for their help I didn’t know what to say or ask. But somehow Shalihia’s story unfolded and that email spread around like wildfire. Almost immediately responses began coming in with offers to help. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t doing anything in this scenario. God was doing all the work but letting me go along to watch. He was letting me enjoy his plan for Shalihia.”

“Yes, we came to trust in God’s provision,” Kathy added. “People we didn’t know were sending money or asking what Shalilia needed. It was amazing to see God at work, and amazing to see the joy in Shalihia’s face as she, though this encounter with all the people who reached out to her, came to know and love God.”

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