My writing motivation has lagged recently. On and off over the past several weeks I have had to push back a heavy fog of bad news, face the fact that we still have no church in-person meetings, and look for the good in this season with less face-to-face interaction. Officiating at a funeral last Thursday took a toll on me. Two of my former students lost their father to COVID-19, and I was asked to share some Scriptures at the graveside service at Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. It was raining that morning, but as I drove to the funeral home I thanked God that the rain had stopped. We gathered, eleven of us, at the funeral home, and talked together for a while. We then got in our cars to follow the hearse over to the cemetery. The rain poured down again, and I clenched my steering wheel and prayed and prayed: “Oh God, please hold back the rain. Please hold back the rain. Let them have a graveside service with only a drizzle or maybe no rain at all. Please hold back the rain.” The rain slowed a bit as we waited in line at the cemetery—there were at least four other small burials taking place. When the rain came down hard again, my prayers went up again “Please hold back the rain, please hold back the rain.” Thank God the rain completely stopped when we stepped out of our cars. I need to thank God for his small and big answers to prayer. The cemetery gave us 30 minutes to remember the life and death of our friend, a father of three, a husband of one, and relative to many. At the end, it seemed so cold and formal to exchange elbow bumps. No hugs. I felt helpless watching my former student, a strapping 28 year old man, hugging his girlfriend and his mother and sobbing uncontrollably. That’s when the rain came. I stepped into my car and let my eyes have their own little moment of rain. “Man, I need a drink,” I caught myself saying out loud. Thank God I have never dealt with addictions, because I’m sure that scene would have been a trigger point. I did stop by Dunkin’ Donuts to get a large coffee on the way home. I have to admit, that afternoon it was hard to focus on work.
Crowd control has never been my forte. I’m a dedicated follower of Jesus, but I do not have high marks on my resume for policing unruly groups. Yesterday the group at the community center for Edenwald Housing got kind of out of hand. We had delivered boxes there three times before with no incident, but this last time I guess the word had gotten out, because some people were already standing in line at 11:00 a.m. for the 1:30 p.m. delivery. That’s what the staff told us later. So we arrived and it went downhill rather quickly, because I started reading off names of people we had on our list from last week who did not get a box. Mistake number one. Suddenly there were maybe 10-15 other people who were convinced they were on my list of 19, but try as I might I couldn’t find their names. I gave two boxes to an elderly woman and her 90 year old mother. Mistake number two. Apparently they were in the same household, even though they said they lived across the hall from each other. The fairness doctrine got trotted out by others in line, and the mood of some darkened considerably. Eventually we were able to distribute our boxes of food but we had some emotional battle scars by the time it was over. We talked it over with the staff at the community center and hopefully we have a reasonably fair way to deal with it next week.
This afternoon my neighbor was texting me and thanking me for the two boxes he had received, one to give to a friend who is out of work and whose mother died of COVID-19, and another to give to an elderly couple. My friend told me he has friends who want to help me distribute food boxes. He then sent a photo of a Rolling Stones magazine cover with the rock group “Living Colour,” featured prominently on the front. His friend from Living Colour wants to help us distribute boxes. I jumped on that offer and asked if he can show up at the Edenwald Housing community center next Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. and help me with crowd control. This same neighbor had told me in an earlier text today that “At one time Edenwald Projects was named one of the most dangerous projects in New York. They are wild over there, there’s a lot of drugs, prostitution, violence and abuse going on over there.” But I guess we are in for an adventure next week, because it sounds like Living Colour representatives will be helping us give out some food boxes next Saturday. A historically famous local rock group helping our small church group distribute food boxes at a community center. Who knew?
The Anabaptist Covid-19 response group that has been responsible to bring the boxes up to NYC and drop them off in The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn will be winding down their efforts towards the end of May. After that point, Believers in Jesus Church and some other churches here in the Bronx, along with a number of churches in Queens and Brooklyn, hope to continue purchasing food boxes from Blessings of Hope (based in Lancaster, PA) for $7/box and distributing them as God enables us. We need to somehow manage the requests that come in, but that management goal is a moving target. From Saturday evening to last night (3 days) I had 57 individual requests for food boxes. Today alone I had over 30 individual requests, but we are now texting people that they will need to check back in next week. So I’ll probably be sending 90 (or more) text messages in the next three days saying that they will need to try again next week because this week we have no more left. We have nine other churches and two homeless shelters here in The Bronx who are helping distribute boxes. Our Muslim friend has been getting 10 boxes a week from Sandy to distribute to her other Muslim friends. For that group, we go through the boxes to make sure there is no pork. Last week we delivered the boxes to her apartment building and she had seven boxes left in the lobby. Apparently she went up to her apartment to get something and came back down. No boxes. All gone. Sandy asked her if she got mad, and she said “Well, whoever took them must have needed them, but I was sad for my friends who were coming to get their boxes.” Was the box thief one person or seven distinctly different perps? We may never know.
I wonder what a food pantry could look like for our church here in the Bronx, moving forward. I could get excited about doing something like a food pantry if it could be a 1-2 day a week venture. If it got to be more than that, it may become the tail that wags the dog. To develop and manage a good food pantry probably takes days a week for one person, plus hours and hours of volunteer labor. Anyway, this is something to consider.
Our friend who was on the ventilator with COVID-19 has recovered and is out of the hospital, thank God. What’s strange is that she had to go to rehab. She’s about our age, but she had to relearn to walk, and her one hand could not grasp a pen the first several weeks after getting out of the hospital. This a strange new world we live in, folks. She's still at rehab in White Plains, weeks after being released from the hospital.
May God be with us all. We need to pray, praise, love God, love others, read the Word of God, and keep in step with the Spirit. It’s a strange but opportune time to be alive.
I called my Dad today for his 70th birthday. He missed my first call because he said "I was up on a ladder." My brother sent a picture later and there was Dad, standing on a plank between two ladders probably fifteen feet above the floor, finishing a high drywall ceiling. I wonder where I’ll be when I turn 70, if the Lord has not returned and my heart is still beating. I’m reasonably certain I won’t be fifteen feet up on a plank finishing a high drywall ceiling. They don’t make guys like my Dad anymore. He’s a good Pops.