Just before eleven o’clock Sunday morning, a call came in to the 911 Dispatcher of a trailer fire at a Mobile Home Park in Mediapolis, thirteen miles north of Burlington. First fire units were on the scene nine minutes later (phenomenal response time), and were actually able to save the back portion of the trailer. No one was in the unit at the time. All three residents lost almost everything in the trailer. Some clothing was salvaged, though it all has heavy smoke damage.
The owner of the trailer is a sixty-year old man. All his life he has worked in labor and construction jobs. By now, the wear of this heavy work has taken its toll on his body. He can no longer lift with his shoulders; cannot do the type of heavy labor that has earned his simple living before. Unable to find a job, too young to retire, he is slogging his way through the shamefully slow disability process. He had little enough before the fire. Now he has lost almost all of that.
His main source of income has been picking up cans on the roadside and odd jobs such as shoveling snow for neighbors. A few dollars here and there; just enough to pay the lot rent, and not much more. His SNAP (Food Stamps) came last week. He went to the grocery and bought a month’s worth of staples, as far as the SNAP benefit would go. All that food was destroyed in the fire.
This humble man, who had so little, was sharing his elderly mobile home with two others who had even less. Some people might criticize him, saying if he charged the others rent instead of letting them help however they could; or if he had charged his neighbors more for shoveling their walks instead of accepting what they wanted to pay, he might have more wealth now. I’m not convinced that generosity is a common reason for poverty, but if it is, that seems a pretty sound reason. Sharing what you have with others, even when what you have is so very little, seems more like a God-thing than charging every penny the market will bear and then hoarding the profits for yourself.
No doubt some would criticize such an anti-capitalist approach. Instead, it feels to me like a humble, open approach. It feels more consistent with what Jesus might do.
While this man and I talked, he told me more of his life-story. As we neared the end of our time, he said he has often wondered what God’s plan for his life is with all the tragedies he has experienced. His mind has been sifting through the ashes of his modest home, looking for something that makes it all make sense. Where is God in a calamity like this? Is God trying to send him some kind of message? If so, what’s the message and how does he answer it?
I had little to offer Kevin yesterday other than a few personal items, referral to some others who might offer bits of help, and a promise to help stock his pantry when he has a place to live again. And I had a handshake and prayer to offer; a reminder that he is not in this alone; that others are offering up his name in prayer, asking God to show a way back to stability, and a reminder that all of us are in community together, all children of God. Maybe part of the answer is that God’s plan is for God’s people, like me, to get involved and help each other. Maybe the message isn’t so much for Kevin as it is for me.
I began writing on this blog hoping some answers would emerge. The best I have is that God does not promise that those who follow The Way will never have any problems. God promises to be with us in the midst of whatever problems we have. God does not promise that life will always be sunshine and light; God promises that the darkness will not overcome us. God sent the Son into the world to be Immanuel, which means, “God with us.”