On Sunday night at our Collegelife worship service, we had the opportunity to celebrate the work of Global Partnerships. Our students returned from spring break having traveled to India, Mexico, Israel/Palestine, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Appalachia. Their testimonies of ways their own lives were changed and of opportunities they had to engage with people who taught them about a world beyond their own were priceless. Following their testimonies Pastor Sandra Van Opstal offered a challenge to our students along the lines of, “A cause will keep you going for a while, but a relationship with someone affected by the circumstances you are fighting against, will sustain the vision for a lifetime.”
On Monday morning, one of the young women who heard the message and with whom I had traveled to India, came bearing a gift of $100 to help purchase a video camera for the work that Truthseekers is doing in Delhi, India. She had connected deeply with not only the mission of caste reconciliation but also with the staff of Truthseekers. And this relational connection is now moving her beyond what the experience had to offer to her and into a commitment of what she can now offer in return. I happen to know that the $100 was not fluff money for her, but a true sacrifice and I was moved by her generosity and the words that accompanied the gift, “I know the money will be used far better there than here!”
On Monday afternoon this week, a student worker came to my office to let me know that there was a man in the lobby waiting to see me. I quickly checked my calendar to see if I had missed an appointment, not a common experience, but not out of the realm possibility either. Seeing that I was not in the wrong, I breathed a sigh of relief that I not made a mistake, but truthfully the sigh that also contained a bit of weariness that someone had dropped in on my already overscheduled day.
I had been on my way out the door to attend an already scheduled meeting and so I put on my coat and grabbed my bag, hoping this man would sense my need to expedite our exchange. When I arrived at the front desk of University Ministries it was not difficult to identify the man, he was the only one in lobby over 20. He was sitting off to the side, with his greying head hung down and his hands folded in his lap, he was a man who looked resigned to life.
I thought perhaps he was a parent of one of our students, perhaps coming to seek some counsel about how to help support their child through the last few weeks of school. “Hello sir, how can I help you?” The man looked up, stood up, and extended his hand. “Hola, Pastora. Can I speak with you?” As I mentioned I was on my way to a meeting, one I felt was important. “Of course, I have a few minutes.”
As I sat with Julio I listened to his story of immigration to the United States, the life of a laborer, a wife battling breast cancer and the need for some help to avoid an eviction notice that would be executed the following day. He was a house painter and had made enough money in the fall to get him through February, but had assumed it would be warm enough to work outside in March. Our winter went too long and his funds fell short. And although he had walked repeatedly from Devon and Clark over to Foster and Pulaski to see if he would be selected as a day laborer, there had not been enough work and he had not been able to come up with the final $200 needed.
I knew that with a quick trip to the ATM at the Shell station I could easily offer the $200 to fill in the gap, and I knew that for me it was truthfully “fluff-money”: money that is not needed for food, shelter, clothing, or bills. Inspired by my recent trip to India, the sacrificial giving of our student, the challenge of Sandra Van Opstal, the upcoming “People are not Illegal Campaign” and a good dose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I told Julio, “No problem. Let’s pray for you and your wife and let’s go get the money.” Julio sat looking stunned and then began to weep and the resigned look turned to one of joy.
I asked Julio how he found University Ministries. He told me he was walking home from Foster and Pulaski, resigned to the fact that tomorrow he would have no home for himself and his wife who is battling cancer. It was then that he heard the bells. He walked into Old Main and asked if it was a church. He was directed to University Ministries where I found him looking resigned to life.
I confess I am ashamed of the sigh that began my encounter with Julio and I am once again reminded that my overscheduled life leaves so little room for Jesus to show up unannounced. I am grateful for the witness of our students, a witness that continues to remind me to live a life of significance and service. And I am grateful for Julio’s willingness to reach out to me, for I too am convinced that it is only in relationship with real people that we can sustain God’s vision for a lifetime.
So my questions for us today are: When people are drawn by the bells, do they find people who are not resigned to letting people live in desperate situations? When people hear the bells do they find people who have committed themselves to live lives of significance and service through real relationships? When people follow the bells do they find you?