Have you had one of those days where things seem to connect?
That was my Wednesday.
My mid-morning coffee break usually includes reading online magazines, looking for interesting and inspiring stories to add to my collection. I was not disappointed.
I came across this touching article about the Belgian village of Geel. This little community has a 700 year heritage of adopting the mentally ill into their homes, treating them as family, loving them with compassion, and providing the dignity of purposeful work. By the 1930’s, the town’s 16,000 inhabitants were housing nearly 4,000 “boarders” from all over Europe. Some of these boarders stay their entire lives. “The boarder who celebrated 50 years in residence is by no means exceptional: another, recently deceased at the age of 100, had spent 80 years with the same family, in the care of successive generations to whom she had been first like a daughter, then a sister and finally an aunt.”
And here was the zinger quote, the tagline that clinched the story:
“Who would not wish to live in a community where such extraordinary resources of time, attention and love were available to those who needed them — but who these days can imagine being in a position to offer them?”
It got me thinking about all the hopes I have for the church as a community of care. And also thinking about all the ways I fall short of those hopes. Lord have mercy on me.
So I went about my day, encouraged by the people of Geel, and challenged to look for opportunities to bless.
That evening, after the kids were in bed, I plopped on the couch to enjoy a little evening wind down reading with the latest issue of the Christian Science Monitor. And there, I came across yet another article about hospitality to “the least of these.” This story involves a young Portuguese architect who has always felt a calling to serve the poor. Then on Christmas Eve in 2005, while delivering food and clothing to the homeless, he discovered what they needed even more: someone to talk to, a friend who would listen.
From that discovery, our hero, Duarte Paiva, went on to start a homeless outreach that was built around having conversations, listening to needs, and enjoying the simple pleasure of a cup of hot tea. This outreach has provided insight that has led to several initiatives, including offering free medical advice and basic supplies. As an architect, Paiva used his skills to design an attractive locker station where the homeless can securely store their few possessions.
Again, the story gripped me with a quote:
“If I cannot change the whole world overnight, I am sure that I can change the street where I live,” [Paiva] says. “Probably, I will never [build] big buildings. But if someone leaves me on an isolated island I will be able to erect a city with [only] a few sticks and ropes.”
What a way to bookend the day. Two stories that illustrate the old, old truth that the best way to change the world is to focus on changing somebody’s world.
And the best way to change somebody’s world is to not treat them as a project, but to treat them as a human being, a bearer of God’s divine image.