Shortly after I became the pastor at Camas Friends Church I was in my office when a knock came on the door. A ragged looking woman was standing in the window. It was obvious she’d spent some time on the street, who knows for how long. She carried a tattered plastic grocery bag with some items of food in it. I welcomed her in, introduced myself and asked her if there was anything I could do for her. She said her name was Betty and she wanted to sing a Quaker song for me. Being a sucker for a good Quaker tune I easily obliged. She began to sing “This Little Light of Mine” in a very fragile, almost crooked voice. She was weak. Probably hungry, obviously dealing with some form of mental illness.
When the song came to an end I thanked her and mentioned that I wasn’t sure Quakers could take the credit for “This Little Light of Mine” but that it was a beautiful rendition nonetheless. Then she began to tell me her story, and said she hadn’t been able to sleep in two days because she doesn’t feel safe sleeping on the street at night. She asked if I would mind if she could take a nap on the office floor for a little while. I paused for a minute. This really caught me off guard, not because I felt it was too much to ask, but because of how belittling it felt to say ,”sure sleep on my floor!” I was amazed at how simple the request was, how basic the need, and yet how ill-equipped I felt to respond. Can we have people sleep in our building? What about the Montessori school? Should I watch her sleep and make sure she doesn’t take anything. Many questions, not all in character with Jesus’ sheep in Matthew 25, ran through my head. Finally I said, “Of course you can’t sleep on the office floor, at least come and sleep on one of our pews” (in case you’re wondering if we have those good ol’ fashioned hard Quaker pews made for only the most faithful, most of ours are cushioned). I led her into the sanctuary, helped her get situated, and left her to sleep for the next four hours as I got a crash course in how to help a woman in her situation.
Not only did I get a personal education that day, Betty became for us an invitation from God to enter into a deeper awareness of the poor in our community. Little did I know the opportunity Betty’s little visit really was.
(to be continued…)
Contributed by Wess Daniels, pastor, Camas Friends