It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .
Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
We drove into the neighborhood both with a little apprehension, wondering if they would understand us or if they would even be home. We drove from the “kept existence” of Mt Pleasant into one of North Charleston’s poorest neighborhoods. Jewelry and credit cards safely at rest in our bedroom, we turned onto their street.
About a month ago a co-worker approached me and asked if our work group would like to provide Christmas for a needy family who had a child at the Dunston Elementary School in N. Charleston. Eagerly I agreed and rushed home to tell my wife the news. We had a family to bless this Christmas!
As had been our tradition for the last few years, my wife and I chose a needy family to provide Christmas gifts and food. Judy got so excited buying clothing and toys for children from the Angel Tree or for a family suggested by the Salvation Army. My greatest joy would be in watching her excitement when she found just the right outfit or finished wrapping that special present. We knew we were something that was pleasing to God. .
The chain link fence topped by barbed wire extended the length of the roadway leading to “our family’s” home. Looking through the fence one could see aging buildings, run down cars and residents going about their business. Caught up in the unfamiliar surroundings, half of me in disbelief and the other half on alert, I did not take the time to look at the people behind the fences, only the “No Trespassing” signs. The fences and barbed wire seemed more to keep residents in rather than strangers out.
I hadn’t slept well for a couple days thinking about this day. Would we communicate through our language barrier (my Spanish their English)? Would they have forgotten the conversation of two weeks ago and not answer the door? As we pulled off the payment onto the dirt parking lot outside their worn apartment building, we both sighed as we took in the conditions under which they lived and considered the temperament of the two pit bulls just let out of a first floor apartment. I asked Judy to stay in the car and lock the doors, I would see if they were home. Little did I know that two smiling brown faces had been peering at two “gringos” from their apartment window.
Head forward and eyes cut toward the pit bulls, I started for the building. The dogs began waging their tails much to my relief and stopping to extend a friendly hand I recognized the mother leaning against the railing directly above me. Hola! I exclaimed, both excited and relieved she was home and recognized me. A smile came to her face and I knew the Lord had prepared this moment.
Turning back to the car, I excitedly told Judy, they are here and she recognized me. Then I looked back to see the smiling waving children in the apartment window! As we gathered the food and carefully locked the car, I thought to myself God will see us through.
As we slowly walked the rickety stairs time slowed. We greeted mom at the front door, “Feliz Navidad!” I exclaimed. “Mi espanol no esta muy buena!” As if I had to reassure her that my Spanish was not very good.
She introduced us to her family, father and three children (9, 5, and 2). I shook dad’s hand, “como esta usted? Mi espanol no esta muy bueno,” Mr. Obvious clarified. I presented him a note of explanation I had prepared beforehand thanks to Google Translator apologetically telling him, “Mi espanol no esta muy bueno, pero yo escribo este nota:”
Mi esposa y yo quería que su familia tener esta cena de Navidad. Tenemos la alegría de saber que Jesucristo fue un regalo de Dios a todo el mundo y queremos compartir esta alegría con ustedes.
El pavo está cocido pero ha estado en el refrigerador. Si quieres, ponlo en el horno antes de comerlo.
I was relieved that my note was understood. After a few minutes of uncomfortable smiles and a few more “Feliz Navidads,” we presented the meal, shook hands and made our way back to our car.
Tears and silence marked the drive home. As we left the poverty and despair of the North Charleston neighborhood and crossed over the Cooper and Wando into the wealth and wantonness of Mt. Pleasant, my wife said, “I feel like someone just told me a family member died. I feel emptiness in the pit of my stomach.” I agreed. Just a ten minute drive was a chasm between two worlds. The have and have not separated only by a few miles yet so far apart. I still have a lot to process.
Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us. (John 12:8; Matt 26:11; Mark 14:7) He was right, of course, but what are we to do with this information? If Bill Gates were to feed, clothe, house and employ all of the poor just in the United States (over 46 million), I am convinced he would run out of money before they were satisfied. Perhaps poverty has less to do about money than it does with our relationship to God and our neighbor.
The Christmas season shines a light on the condition of the poor and many reach out to help. However, as the holiday lights fade most of us return to our comfortable communities and forget ten minutes down the road, some wonder how they will make it another day with nothing to eat or a warm place to sleep.
Perhaps the poor is God getting us to look beyond ourselves and not for a moment. Is how we treat the least of these a reflection on our love for neighbor over self? We won’t know for sure until we see Him face to face. While we remain in these earthly bodies, however, the hungry, the homeless, the lonely and the outcast persist.
We, as the hands and feet of Christ, have more to offer a hungry mouth than a morsel of bread; we have the opportunity to give the Bread of life to one who may have never heard it before.
Please pray that the “Dunstan family” would know the love of Jesus Christ and all would one day put their trust in Him. Let us also pray the Church can one day bring the people of the two cities (N. Charleston and Mt. Pleasant) together.
Be a blessing!