A Ministry Found in Forms and Fingers
For 100 years, the Lighthouse Mission in Terre Haute has distributed Thanksgiving food baskets. On this anniversary year, their ability to provide the estimated 1,650 baskets was in doubt. Thanks to the efforts of many, including Terre Haute Ministries of which Central Presbyterian Church is a part, this important ministry will see 101.
I sought to help in a small way through the donation of a few hours of time to sign families up at the Salvation Army. What I did not expect was the subtle and not so subtle ways it impacted me. First, lines stretched out the door. I knew intellectually that this community has poverty and hunger, but I was not quite prepared to see it in such a visible manner. Settling down at my processing station, I waited for people to be escorted to my table where my job was to verify social security card information and birth certificates to prove eligibility. One by one, women or men, often with young children in tow, handed me social security cards and birth certificates for all persons in the household. They knew, and I knew, that I stood between them and a basket at the Thanksgiving holiday. As I held the forms in my hands, checked for the correct information, and wrote down ages and gender of family members, it was clear that each held a story. Some were desperately soiled, some folded in odd ways, some clearly kept meticulously in plastic, some with birth places far away, and some with last names different from the adult before me. These were all passed to me with a diversity of fingers that also seemed to tell a story—some with long multicolored nails, some well worn, some arthritic too early, some quite dirty, some clean but chapped, and some holding cards for 4 and even 5 children. As I reflected on the import of my task, and thankfully no one was rejected, each form and finger seemed to reveal a piece of their humanity. I imagined pain, comfort, choices made, choices thrust upon them, love, hatred, regret, reconciliation, anger, and happiness among a myriad of other human emotions that I projected upon them. Of course I will never know if my perceptions were accurate, and likely in some cases, perhaps most, they were wrong. What I did realize, though, is that God is present in those fleeting moments when one touches another across the income divide. What I did that day wasn’t much, at least compared to what I see others in this church do, but it reminded me of what is real. I think I’ll do this again.