Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
A few years ago, it came to our deacons' attention that someone had decided to relocate to our community from another church in our denomination. At first, we thought Margaret was just visiting. Originally from Kenya, after six years in Canada, she had decided to return to Africa for a three-month visit, after which she made a stop to visit the family our church had sponsored a year previous, with whom she had connections. It wasn't until two weeks into her 'visit' that we became aware of her intention to relocate within our community.
We tried, along with her sponsoring community, to urge Margaret to move back - in part because of the higher cost of living in our community. Although we didn't understand, her situation was complex, and she was adamant about staying put. It would seem that we had work to do. She couldn't stay with our sponsored family; there was just not enough room. So, over the next few months, she moved back and forth, from home to home, hosted by several families in our congregation.
Complicating the issues, Margaret had lost her status with Social Services during her three months out of country. She has physical issues that limit her ability to work, and she was homeless and without finances. That said, she also had no problem accepting the generosity of people, praising God for answering her prayers every time someone else took her into their home.
I admit to feeling somewhat annoyed by Margaret's assumption that she could just 'plunk' herself down in our midst, expecting us to take care of her. Even earlier, when she went back to Africa, one of our members paid an exorbitant amount for the extra baggage she had with her, bringing back goods to her family in the refugee camps.
It seemed to many of us that Margaret's attitude was one of receiving – although certainly not ungratefully - everything that was offered, perhaps even expecting it of us.
Then my husband and I took our turn at hosting Margaret. She was an easy house guest who was willing to chop vegetables, sweep, dust, and clean up after meals. She told me some stories about her past experiences in Rwanda, Kenya and the refugee camps, giving me a new appreciation for her disregard of material things, and an understanding why, if given money, she would, without question, send it to her family in Africa, even if it meant she wouldn't have enough for her daily needs. To someone of Margaret's background and generous nature, it was a given that those blessed with affluence would simply 'kick in'.
Today, Margaret once again has a fixed income, and although it took some time to find her a home, it is clear that placement was by Divine appointment. She has been warmly welcomed into her new Seniors' Community and is learning to live on her limited budget and be resourceful in a new place with higher expenses that she is accustomed to. We encouraged her to do things for herself - to be independent, while enjoying her new neighbors. Since she's moved, Margaret also has joined a church nearer to her new home, so we don't see her often anymore.
As a result of Margaret’s presence, our faith community has grown, as we often do when our lives intersect with those from other cultures and different experiences.
God has given me a different point of view through this experience. Here's what I learned:
- when trying to help someone, respect their dignity. Ask them for input. Get to know who they are.
- pray to discern what is the best permanent solution for them.
- wait for God's timing - don't let others press you into making quick decisions. Avoid a 'quick fix' that leaves room for ongoing vulnerability.
- anticipate that people who you may never have expected to come forward, may do so, and encourage them. Watch God work in your faith community, causing growth.
- ask God for a new attitude if you're struggling. Try to understand the differences in cultures and consider all angles of a situation.
- seek out the wisdom of trusted friends who are distanced from the situation.
When a need becomes known, it's encouraging to see people come forward, presenting themselves in practical acts of worship. During this time, I've come to know a few people in my faith community a bit better. When we work and pray towards a common goal, we receive our own gifts. I was taught more about patience and faith, and the experience has matured me just a bit more.