[Editor’s Note — Michael is on vacation this week, so our guest e-pistle writer is John Owens, Program Assistant.]
In the first few weeks of serving at Old First, I began to understand the routines of this small congregation and its phenomenal service programs. These ministries engaged both youth interaction and serving those unable to rise above the unfortunate quotas in Philadelphia’s dense population. The outreach program particularly interested me due to the large work I was previously committed to in Germantown with Face-to-Face and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. These organizations and the Saturday Morning Cupboard at Old First invoke a certain spirit of compassion and concern that is missing in our culture today. Many people are truly passionate towards various issues, such as fair wages, housing, education, etc., but to be committed to this direct service such as the Saturday Morning Breakfast is not too common.
Thus far there has been one particular gentleman that has stood out to me, Sam (for this e-pistle, his real name will not be published). Sam, like many of the homeless, sought shelter in a safe space like Old First. As I started making rounds in the evenings, I noticed items rearranged and a rusty cot that “magically” appeared. These were the signs of an individual sleeping on the grounds of the church, and I wanted to discover who this person was. In some particular situations, to approach someone sleeping, who is homeless, can be a questionable experience…will they respond positively or even harmfully? Despite the risk, Sam was in need and I was willing to seek him out. Days later, I found Sam on the rusty cot, and engaged him with a simple “Hello,” and “How are ya?” The image that night could be explained with vivid words, but it’s useless when we see these images daily in our city. I explained to Sam that his current sleeping arrangements weren’t safe and that I could offer him assistance with finding a place for the night. To my surprise, Sam firmly denied my offer, due the various internal issues within some shelters.
Talking with Sam wasn’t unusual; he’s 6’5, in late 50’s, and very thin. He had been released from a shelter due to curfew violations, and no longer received his mail. This downfall lead to a loss of contact with his caseworker, and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) documents, which provides cash for basic needs, food, and shelter. With losing his housing and SSI, Sam was driven to reside in a place he considered, “safe,” the backyard of Old First. After about 40 minutes of our conversation, he asked for some cash; and at the moment, cash was so little for me, how could I afford to aid him. Nevertheless, I assisted with what I could and he told me of his future plans to get a court date, get his life together, etc. After the exchange, Sam walked away, and I prayed for the best.
Now flash-forward to five-weeks ago, Sam reappears, but this time in a much better physical appearance. He has gusto and some weight on him, and he’s eaer to speak to me about the past few months after our first encounter. He was awarded his SSI checks again, and had moved to a shelter in Doylestown. He was receiving federal funds for his medicine, and was mentally stable and looking for work, despite not having to. His purpose that day was thank me for “kind words to a stranger.” He said many people can be aggressive in these situations, but my words were different and more inviting. We caught up with tea, and a few laughs; I gave him some socks and a sweater and sent him on his way home.
I was very pleased that Sam came back and that my donation did some good in his life. How often do we give to folks like Sam and wonder if it will make any difference in their life. Was it blind faith that led me to give him cash? Was it an issue of a guilty conscious? Or did I look at Sam and see God’s reflection and then saw my own reflection. Truthfully, I could not tell you, however, in a quote by Mother Teresa, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Love is underlying tone to take away from this letter, in the many ways we give to those who are need, to Old First, or various organizations, it is not the amount, but the intention of love we put into the giving.
Dollars can make an impact for a short time, but words backed by love are endless.
– John Owens