By the Rev. Jamie McDowell
In the Gospel of Luke we read of Jesus and his encounter with the 10 lepers. It is in this story that we see Jesus encountering 10 people who are alienated from society.
Their plight seems hopeless to them. They cannot function in society and cannot return on their own. These guys are in a position where they need a hand up, not a hand out. We read how Jesus heals them through their faith. Of the 10, only one returns to say thank you. We know the others are healed, but they do not return to say thanks. This can lead us to wonder: What happened to those others? Did the healing hand up help them? Were their lives changed for the better?
This scene and these questions can apply today. Often in our church ministries, we offer a hand up to some who others may shun. Many times, we do not see these individuals again. We continue to reach out in faith and help those who are brought to our attention. In many cases, we seldom hear a thank you much less see one return to say it personally.
This was not the case Feb. 23 at Hopewell United Methodist Church in Westminster.
In 2018, it was brought to the attention of a church member that a young woman needed a hand up in the form of a power deposit. The church unanimously voted to help her and paid the deposit on her birthday. All the majority of the church knew was her name was Pam, and she worked at a local nonprofit assisted living facility.
Pam dealt with physical and psychological issues over the years. In the course of her life she was a victim of gun violence in her workplace. This led to a case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout it all she remained a strong, independent person who was determined to make it alone.
Over the next year Pam attempted to better her life while at the same time battling health problems. She worked daily while battling the physical pain her body experienced. She started caring for her father who moved in beside her. Also, her 19-year-old son moved in with her.
Eventually she found a job in a different setting. The new job would allow her to be closer to her partner, while continuing to do the work she loved: cooking. In November 2019, she was scheduled to start her new job. As fate would have it, that was not to be. Because of her continued battle with illness, she was unable to work.
Pam entered the hospital Dec. 3. She had lost sight in one eye. Over the next month she would undergo numerous tests and procedures. With medical bills piling up rapidly, little income, no insurance and no one to speak for her, things were looking dim. The church had been providing assistance with food for the last few months.
On Jan. 3, a friend of the church met with Pam. She offered to assist Pam in getting government aid, as well as a medical sponsorship. Pam readily agreed to accept the assistance. Over the next five weeks, it seemed like miracles were worked. With Pam unable to travel because of illness, friends were able to travel to Georgia and work with SSI to set up a telephone interview with Pam. They also helped Pam open a bank account, get approved for food stamps and get her into the local medical clinic. More importantly, they were able to get her into a medical sponsorship program that eliminated her medical bills.
With these great things happening in her life, Pam could now envision a hope for the future. Thankful for the continued support, Pam wanted to do something for those who had supported her without question. Even with loss of vision and physical pain, she would not be deterred.
On Feb. 12, Pam reached out to me at Hopewell. She wanted to do something to thank the church for their support. She offered the one thing she had: She offered to cook a spaghetti lunch for the church. Knowing that the fellowship hall had recently experienced some setbacks with the water heater bursting, causing some damage to the floor and the ice machine awaiting its final trip to the scrap metal graveyard, Pastor Jamie contacted a few members who expressed overwhelming support for the idea. It was agreed that the church would pay for all the supplies needed to provide the meal.
The date of Feb. 23 was chosen for the meal. A few days before, church members picked up all the items needed to prepare a salad, spaghetti with homemade sauce, fresh-grated Parmesan cheese and garlic bread. On Saturday, Feb. 22, Pam spent the day preparing her homemade sauce.
On Sunday morning before worship, I walked into the fellowship hall to be greeted by the smell of a delicious meal being prepared. Pam was busy preparing all ingredients for the meal. The dessert table was covered in cakes and pies brought by various members. Those preparing the meal listened to the worship service through the speaker system. The tables in the fellowship hall were set up in a circle pattern so everyone could be included.
After the worship service, about 20 members from Hopewell and her sister church, Zion UMC, joined together to enjoy a time of fellowship and a delicious meal. Before the blessing, Pam offered a word of thanks to the members. Pam joined in the meal as well, sitting next to Pastor Jamie. She shared more of her story. Her partner, Dana, got a little turned around finding the church, but he did make it in time to sit and talk with everyone for a few minutes.
Pam said she’d felt like one of the lepers living on the edge of society, unable and at times unworthy to come close to the church because of situations out of her control. Yet when the body of Christ reached out with that helping hand up, she returned like the one to say thank you.
Overall, this meal was good in many ways. It gave everyone a reason to eat. It allowed Pam to thank the church, and it allowed the church to see the fruits of their labor.
Our goal as United Methodists is to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. We see that taking place in this encounter. We see it in the church that is reaching out. We see it in the members, and friends helping.
Most importantly, we see it in Pam who, in her way, is being Christ to transform the world through serving others—even in her time of need and pain.