Odds are Against Us

November 10th, 2009 by Rainey

About a mile from our church is a migrant camp.  In the fall, around harvest time, it fills up with men from Jamaica and elsewhere who come to pick apples.  There aren’t as many now as there once were.  The orchards are being cut down to make room for the sprawling McMansions of those doctors or bedroom community-ers who commute away from our little town into the ridiculous suburban sprawl of NOVA and DC to work at jobs that make sure that they barely ever see the insides of those homes.

And a few miles away there are other men who rarely see the insides of their homes.  Because they are scraping a living together here in apple country a couple months a year.  Every year our church collects toiletries and fills us sacks to take to each of the men.  We collect coats and long-sleeved shirts and hats so that these guys from Jamaica will have something warm to wear when it becomes, suddenly, unseasonably cold for one or two weeks.

For the past few years Anthony and Daniel have come, when they have been in town, to our church services.  They sit at the front and are welcomed.  They sing our admittedly boring-at-times hymns and listen to our sermons.

Last year they told me they liked the camp fine.  It was the food that was the worst.  It had no flavor.  I rummaged through my cupboard when I got home and found bottles of seasoning salts and took them the bottles the next week.

Last year a hurricane hit in Jamaica and ripped the roof off of Anthony’s house while he was here working.  Daniel’s family was also affected.  They came and asked for help and we sent them home with enough money to fix the houses and the roofs.

And still…it all feels ridiculous.  The system is so broken.  The balance is so off.  Imagine preaching about the rich young ruler to a predominantly wealthy congregation while two migrant workers sit on the front row and a man who got out of prison yesterday sits in the back.  Imagine having a camp like that down the road and only being able to offer toothbrushes, a hat, some spices, and money.  Imagine all the things that still need to happen.  All that is being left undone and unsaid.

The nurse who used to work there came to church the other day.  She told me she had been fired because she had gotten too close to the workers.  Had cared too much.  She told me it was a blessing in disguise.  Because now she could just go and talk with them.  Eat with them.  Now she wasn’t breaking any rules when she saw them as people who she could love and care about.

Ministry is hard.  It is hard to keep it all in check.  To not just throw up your hands and say, “WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS WORLD OF OURS?!?!?!”  To not just walk away feeling like anything you do is less than what it takes to make things better.

But then again…they come back every year.  And they come to church and worship with us.  A few weeks ago, Anthony asked me how about our pastor’s wife.  “I haven’t seen her in a few weeks.  Is she ok?”  I told him about her surgery.  How she was doing better.  “I will be praying,” he said.

So will I.

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