About 18 months ago, our church advertised on our sign out front that we were going to have a free dinner for anyone who wanted to attend. Only 3 strangers were attracted by the sign, but they all stayed past that one worship service and dinner. One was a woman alone. The other was a couple.
That first day that they visited, the woman in the couple rushed right in to help. She worked in the kitchen, even though it was certainly not a requirement of having a free meal. When there was a work day, the two of them showed up and worked from beginning to end. At our church, only the pastor is paid and everything else is done by volunteers. The couple took a shift for cleaning the church, including cleaning toilets.
They walked to church, and when hubby and I found that out, we started offering to pick them up before church and driving them home. In the winter months, they took us up on that. We exchanged phone numbers and talked sometimes throughout the week. For a year, they were at almost every worship service, small group once a week, and every church activity.
At Christmas last year, she cried because she couldn't buy her kids any gifts and our church made sure that the kids and the couple all had lots and lots of packages under the tree.
Then they stopped coming. First is was because they were house-sitting. Then it was because her mother needed her in the house-cleaning business. I left messages with her daughters, but didn't get a return call. And the cell phone I had for the man was disconnected.
Finally, I saw her at the little convenience just up the street from my house last week. We hugged. She told me how much she loved me and Jim. And how much she loved everyone at the church. And that she had seen Jesus in everyone at our church. It turned out that she had moved from the area. They had been living with her mother not far from our church. Now they were living in another part of town with his mother.
Right away that concerned me. She had been in rehab for drugs. I know that one can find drugs anywhere, but in our neighborhood it would have been more difficult than in the neighborhood where they had moved. She had been clean while living in our area. But I wondered if the temptation would be too strong with the move.
She gave me her new cell phone and we talked about having Jim and me pick her and her fellow up for church the next Sunday. We didn't care how far away it was. We wanted them to keep the connection that they had started with us and with God.
Yesterday I learned that on Thursday, she passed away from an accidental drug overdose. She was only 42 and leaves behind 3 kids - 2 girls about 18 and 22 and a son about 13. And her long term good male friend. And her mom and sisters.
I cried when I heard about her death. And I cried in church today when the pastor told us that we need to keep reaching out to the people around us so that we can continue to touch lives like this.
But I have to wonder....could we have done more?
I guess this bothers me a tad more than others in our church, not only because we were the ones who heard more of their stories and spent more time with them. But it also brought my brother to mind, who passed away because of his long-term addiction to alcohol.
There are hurting people all around us and sometimes we just don't see them.
Rest in peace, my friend. I'm sorry that I didn't do more for you. And I pray that our church can reach out to the rest of your family in their time of need.