The displaced people down the street
Last week Harriet and I were blessed with seven days at the beach. Even in retirement a change of scenery is welcome, and nice. It was mostly a do nothing vacation. But, something did occur one day that touched me deeply.
Just to get out we went browsing for Christmas stocking stuffers at one of those pottery warehouse places. As Harriet shopped I walked. While making a turn around the entrance area of the huge store a bus pulled to the front doors and around eighteen senior adults came into the store. They were from a local assisted living facility and this was obviously one of their weekly outings. There were two couples and the rest were singles, three men, and eight or nine women, what I assumed to be widows and widowers. The men mostly found a seat in a little waiting area at the front while the ladies took carts and started slowly moving through the store.
As I walked I would pass them and like all good Baptist ministers try to eavesdrop on their conversations. Two of the women broke my heart. They touched Christmas ornaments and decorations, stopped to admire wreaths and table settings, paused over dinner ware and serving pieces, and smiled at lighted trees. In it all they would quietly comment to each other along the way. One of them whispered, "Frank really didn't like doing the lights", or, "The children always enjoyed the ice-cycles", or, "I remember the year we had the silver tree", or, "I gave all of our decorations to my niece", or some other comment that communicated something profound. One of them said, "The children aren't coming this year", and the other replied, "Mine will be here one day since this is the first year without Frank." These two widows were slowly browsing, remembering, and grieving. Theirs will probably be a lonely Christmas, warmed only by their recollections of Christmases past and a small corps of others sharing their residence.
It's true that 1.4 million Americans are in the 15,700 nursing homes in our country. That's doesn't count the other 11 million Americans under some kind of long-term care need---hospice, home health agencies, residential communities, and adult day care centers. And, yes, there are millions of others who are self-sustained but alone, or living in bare sustenance circumstances, or alienated from families for one reason or another. And, the thing is, God's people are under spiritual and moral conviction to provide some level of care to all of them.
Here's the thing that hit me in the gut. While our government is sorting through all of the options and details of dealing with the growing refugee populations around the world, and while the Christian community is polarized about our mission to them, there are these millions of displaced people down the street that get little of our attention. You see, we're so often opportunists at heart, ready to pounce on the need that fits our trendy ideals of Christian charity. As I observed those two women and the others in their group, I was ashamed to be so ready to extend a hand to people around the world but ignore the need down the street.
Scripture touches these areas in abundance---
If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you
will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
Matthew 19:21, ESV
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans
and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:27, ESV
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you
says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the
things needed for the body, what good is that?
James 2:15-16, ESV
And, of course, there are many other passages that deal with our compassion and care for those who are displaced or disadvantaged or disenfranchised right here close by, many of them our neighbors, many fellow church members.
What did I do that day with a bus load of lonely senior adults? Nothing. I am so ashamed. I did write down the name of the place and will call several local pastors and church friends in that area just to make sure they aren't overlooked during the celebration of Christ's birth.
But, it was a profound reminder that there are displaced people down the street too. Praying now for eyes that see.