CHINA GROVE — “I hope we will go home different.”
It would be hard to do otherwise, as more than 100 people who attended a poverty meal recently at Mount Zion United Church of Christ in China Grove most certainly experienced some change in attitude about their neighbors in need.
Nancy Yates, one of the evening’s organizers, uttered those words at the end of the evening. During her welcome, she said, “God is about to do something special.”
The crowd gathered around tables seating seven. In the middle of each table were actual items donated to Main Street Mission. Some tables had fresh fruit or vegetables, while other tables had — shall we say, some unusual foods — and still other tables had spoiled food or nothing at all. Because the shelves are sometimes bare at the mission, Yates pointed out.
The purpose of the event was twofold, Yates explained: to feel what it’s like to walk in a neighbor’s shoes, and to keep God’s blessings flowing, from ourselves to others.
Jerry Hagler, a member of the mission’s board, talked about poverty in the South Rowan area, said that the organization was helping, on average, 80 new people each week.
“A neighbor is a person that we encounter every day,” Hagler said. The mission refers to those who seek assistance as neighbors, not clients — because they are just that.
“They’re coming to the mission because they’re hungry. They want someone to talk to, somebody who will listen. They are the working poor, couples who work for minimum wage, working short-time or half-time. It hurts them to have to go to the mission and ask for help. We’re going to try to get you into the lives of one of our neighbors.”
Hagler went on to introduce the group to a neighbor named “Cindy.” With the help of Anne Corriher, the mission’s executive director, the two revealed more about Cindy’s life.
Anne read Cindy’s story, taking on her identity. Her case number is 4-745, but her name is Cindy. She’s 23 years old. Her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She’s had numerous surgeries and needs more. The family lives in a ratty trailer park. All of Cindy’s children are sick a lot because of the mold on the walls. She lives with her boyfriend, who talks mean to her.
“Sometimes I’m afraid,” Cindy said. “This month we ran out of money, and the food stamps are late, maybe two months late. I don’t know what to do, who to turn to.”
“I met Cindy on a hot Friday afternoon in August,” Hagler said. “I realized there was a very desperate woman before me who needed more than a box of food. She literally had nowhere to turn. Cindy was so broken that she couldn’t even make eye contact.”
Then it was up to the small groups at each table to discuss how they could help Cindy, and other neighbors like her. Each group answered three questions: Name three challenges Cindy is facing. What more could be done? What part do I play?
“We leave you with a question tonight,” Hagler said at the end of the exercise. “What will your response be?”
The Rev. Keith Copeland, interim pastor for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, China Grove, then spoke about scarcity versus abundance. He mentioned a line in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Do you think there will poverty in heaven?” he asked.
“No,” came the answer.
On earth, he said, we tend to focus on scarcity. He then asked people sitting at two tables to pick up two trays of sandwiches. Two tables out of 16 had all the resources. What would happen? Would there be scarcity, or would there be enough?
“What if the goal is that everybody have enough?” Copeland asked. “Show me what that looks like.”
With that, everyone at those two tables stood up and started passing out sandwiches. There was enough for everyone and, not only that, there were bowls of chicken noodle soup and cups of cold water — a surprise for the attendees who thought they would receive no food or drink.
“It just reminded us of our blessings,” said Lisa Pinion, who attended the event with husband Todd and son Austin. “Our blessings are even better when we are sharing with others.”
Emma Ellams is an eighth-grader at China Grove Middle School who came with members of the Beta Club. The club’s national motto is, “To lead through serving others.”
“I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about,” she said. “I heard a real story about what was really going on in my community.”
“It was good,” said Bethany Rymer, 9, who listened and learned. She came with her mom, Donna, and sister, Kira, a sixth-grader at China Grove Middle who earned her bronze award in Girl Scouts by volunteering at Main Street Mission.
“I liked it,” Kira said. “It was fun.”
But it was also a chance to go home perhaps a bit different.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.
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