Monday, June 8, 2015

An Unlikely Connection

The following is a liturgy I did several years ago about a mission trip I was a part of after Hurricane Sandy

We got out to Jersey and landed at this small Cape Cod style house on the bay – it was painted a loud shade yellow and it was sandwiched in between two very large coastal mansion type homes.
Rich and Donna were the names of the couple who lived there – the house had been in Rich’s family for years and he inherited it from his aunt. Rich was self-employed, as was his wife, and although they had insurance, like many others in their position, it had failed them, as had the Red Cross and FEMA. They had no permanent place to stay since last October – they camped out in various homes of friends and family throughout the area.

Rich looks like Hulk Hogan and to say he was a little rough around the edges would be putting it mildly. He has no problem letting go with the F word – not calling anyone it, but using it as an adjective. He is not your typical Jersey shore resident. Nor is his home a typical Jersey shore home.

He shared with us later that he wasn’t one to take a handout, and he had grave concerns when he saw a group of four men, and more to the point, four women (what could they do?) come to his home. It was a little stiff that first morning…in hindsight, Rich probably thought he had a group of Bible thumpers there trying to save his soul and probably not there to be of much use otherwise.

We started proving him wrong right off the bat – we got out our tools and started hanging drywall (or what Easterners call sheet rock) in his little two bedroom home. Not only could he see that we knew what we were doing, but we laughed at his jokes, talked about all sorts of stuff, including his life and our lives. We were actually human. Not some group of Midwestern WASPs coming out to poo poo the poor Jersey guy and maybe do some work and then pat ourselves on the back.

Lunch time came that first day and Rich said that under no uncertain terms were we to provide our own lunch – he and Donna would do that. That first day they cooked out for us in their yard – and told us the story of how they did all their cooking on their grill after the hurricane. Every day after that, Rich would go to one of many of his favorite places to get us lunch – fried chicken, ribs, pizza – one day he went all the way to Atlantic City at 4 in the morning to bring back lunch for us. He said it was the least he could do. We tried, but there was no telling Richie no.

We just clicked – our entire group and Richie and Donna. He told us about family members who had been and are currently in prison, his rough upbringing, and how he doesn’t really fit in his neighborhood anymore. We told him stories about our lives. We shared a lot. If he was judging us because of what he thought we represented, that immediately stopped. And if any of us were judging him, because of his past or his mannerisms that also immediately went away.

On the last day, we finished off the drywall project, and he was nearly ready to paint the walls with next week’s group (though knowing Rich, he probably had it done before the group showed up). As we said good bye, Rich started to cry and thanked us for our help. He said gave us two silver angels – one for each van – to watch over us on the trip home. He implored us to be careful driving back to Michigan. He kept repeating “God bless you all” and then added – “and I’m an atheist saying this!” He also said that we had given him a lot to think about.

Needless to say, none of us leaving his house that last time had a dry eye either. While we have had incredible experiences and have learned something on each mission trip we have been on, we came away from this one with some truly transformative experiences.

We were just us – doing God’s work, not trying to save someone’s soul, but helping our fellow human being – giving back in response to what the Lord has given us. Maybe Rich will continue to be an atheist – who knows. That is a decision between him and God. But we are very confident in saying he probably looks at religion and Christians in another light.

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