Monday, January 26, 2015

A kindness remembered

Long ago, as a graduate student, I was interning at a news service in downtown Washington DC.  I was a hunter and gatherer of stories to be published in small town newspapers.  It required a lot of lonely tasks, attending congressional committee meetings and news conferences, meeting deadlines and typing up articles late at night after everyone else had gone home.  I felt like a lone swimmer in a winter ocean.

And adding to my isolation, I was living in the YWCA, an inexpensive destination for sojourners and the down and out.  For my three months there, it was a place I could afford, an austere collection of cell-like rooms.  It was all I needed.  But there were lives of clear hardship staying on those floors.  I once heard a young woman weeping by the hallway pay phone.  She did not have even the dime she needed to make a collect call home to her mother to say she wanted to come home.

Downtown Washington at that time was not the clean slick metropolis as it is today, but still ravaged and not yet restored from the rioting and burning of buildings during the turbulent 1960s.  I passed skeletons of structures every day.  And as a young single woman, I had to walk blocks out of my way to avoid blatantly unsafe areas.  At the end of my day, I scurried back through the early winter darkness back to my room at the Y.

I was hungry for fellowship.  Through some friends back home, I connected with a young woman who lived across town and had a car.  She offered to take me to church one Sunday.

I stood that day in a huge cathedral-like church among God's people.  It was just what I needed.

After the service as we were putting on our coats, an older couple behind us leaned over and asked, "Would you girls like to go to lunch with us?"  It was a kind gesture, and my driver quickly agreed.

Standing in line at the crowded cafeteria, I was a little nervous.  On a very strict budget, this was not something I could afford.  I had been eating in my room to save expenses, heating up water in a little electric pot for soup, tea and oatmeal.  And now, I was in a really awkward place.  The other girl was loading up her tray.  I slid my empty tray along, thinking perhaps I could feign that I was not hungry and just get by with a cup of coffee.

The sweet older woman sidled up to me and whispered in my ear, "Oh my dear, you choose absolutely anything you want.  This meal is on us.  You are our guest."

In the Bible, hospitality is defined as a love of strangers.  I experienced that face to face that day, a kindness not quickly forgotten.

That old couple never knew how much that meal meant to me.

They were sensitive to a stranger who was just sitting in front of them that day.  And responsive not just to God but to an invisible need.  I am sure it was not the first time they responded that way, nor the last.  They had set their hearts in that direction.  And practiced the extraordinary.

The Scriptures instruct us.

Practice hospitality.

          Romans 12.13

Practice hospitality,
every which way you can,
every which way He leads.

A single kindness in His name
              changes the world.
In the movie Four Feathers, the main character asks the tribesman who had sacrificed so much for him, "But why did you help me?"

"Because God put you on my path," he replied with a chuckle.

Who has God placed on my heart today?

No comments: