One day Father John Shaffer, the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Baldwinsville, NY, which I attend, asked my input how to spend $5,000 their congregation had allocated to meet local needs. As the director of the local Volunteer Center on the outskirts of Syracuse, I was in the position to know of special needs in the community. We depend on local congregations as well as individuals, families, service clubs, organizations, and businesses for support.
Consider how this congregation helped a West African refugee family who arrived in Syracuse.
The father and mother had gone foraging for food when fighting between warlords broke out and they were unable to return home. With thousands of others, they fled across the border and had been refugees in various countries until an Assembly of God missionary arranged for a Syracuse church to sponsor them in a refugee resettlement program. The children had in the care of their grandmother, but she and other relatives were slaughtered. Somehow, four children were still alive, and a good part of the parents’ wages in the US was sent to Africa to track down the children, get them to safety, buy food, and appeal for them to join them. The weeks and months dragged on.
You might think that a mother who had been tortured, uprooted, and separated from her children would be always bitter. Not so. Life in Syracuse wasn’t a piece of cake either. Doctors couldn’t find a solution to her recurrent digestive problems. If her health was stable, the steam pipes in the ceiling of the basement apartment burst and flooded their possessions, and the repairman stole the mother’s shoes. On Labor Day, a sudden storm with tornado-strength winds toppled the huge tree outside her apartment building; falling trees knocked out power lines throughout the Syracuse area and blocked off streets; it took a week to restore power to many neighborhoods. She shivered in the autumn chill but was excited to see snow. She got frustrated and discouraged at times, but she never lost her faith in God or gratitude for a chance to make a new beginning.
In mid-December the children finally arrived. Key people on the Volunteer Center’s Christmas Bureau set aside special gifts for the family. Local people rounded up clothing and toys. None if this required extra funds. The congregation was struck by the mother’s testimony of faith and determination. The children were baptized during the bishop’s annual visit, and the congregation celebrated.
Periodically, the teenage members of Episcopal churches in central New York travel to New York City to camp out for a weekend at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic structure in the world. (Construction started in 1896 and is still unfinished.) The kids got to climb high up into the ramparts, listen to a midnight concert on the 8,000-pipe organ, and explore New York City. The congregation paid the expenses for the oldest boy to participate in this trip. He saw people begging on the street, homeless people with black skin like him. He shot hoops with kids of all skin colors. It was a beautiful, clear day, and the young man climbed the Empire State Building and looked out toward distant horizons. The church kids and adults made him feel so loved. He came back with full heart and mind. Through him the family experienced new aspects of this country and its people, as well as a living experience with some people who embody Christ.
To underwrite the young man’s trip and the reverberations it created throughout this family cost the congregation a grand total of about $115 in money and a lot of outpouring of heart.
Imagine what could be done with $5,000.