Our nurse and meal and pantry by themselves will not dismantle the structures that keep so many of our neighbors in poverty and pain. We know this, which is why we try to keep our focus on building relationships of mutual trust and care.
Because of the weekly meals we shared, and the stories we told each other, prior to the pandemic we were developing a narrative of where the systems of medical care and food distribution are failing to keep everyone in our community healthy and fed. We were developing a collective yearning for healing, for a social system that promotes flourishing rather than poverty and pain. And, we were also starting to know each other as beloved community.
We’re connected and know each other’s laughs, which Pandora station we prefer as background music to dinner, and what we’re like on a bad day. We’re starting to have a hard time imagining life without each other, which also means we’re willing to work and fight alongside each other to make life more livable for those who are hurting the most.
Earlier in 2020, I had begun to wonder how our community might connect with other groups organizing for economic, health, and housing justice as a way to mobilize the collective love and hope for each other’s flourishing on a wider scale.
When covid19 hit, and we had to stop gathering for dinner. Many people who’d been sharing in this ministry don’t have reliable access to internet or technology like Zoom, so we’ve not been seeing each other as much. And it’s hard. But we’ve been delivering food to each others’ doors, connecting to even more neighbors (we’ve gone from serving 30-40 people a week with our meal and pantry to over 200 people!) and slipping notes into boxes of food and diapers that include an encouraging Word from scripture, an invitation to connect on Facebook or to call us, and a reminder that Jesus is with us, and God is still all about new life, and healing, for all people.
One of our delivery people tells me that though she’s not super-comfortable with her English, as she drops off a box of food at peoples’ doors and steps back at a safe distance, tries to say something to connect. “God bless you.” “Black Lives Matter.” “Peace to your family.” She says she’s met with surprised smiles, peace signs, air hugs, y “Muchas gracias!” Our focus for years has been on prioritizing relationships, and not letting fear or embarrassment or any of the social barriers that want us to stay apart from each other get in the way of presuming that Christ is waiting to meet us in every neighbor. The fruits of this work are paying off, even in this moment when so much of our face-to-face relationships have had to be put on hold.
Our hope is that this food will nourish each other’s bodies and spirits, even while we’re apart, so that God will hold us in relationship. It may seem small, prioritizing relationships and letting these connections form the basis for what we do to respond in a crisis. But all I know is what we’re doing now, as a small community of humble means, is loving and serving 5 times the number of neighbors we were loving and serving before this pandemic and lockdown began.
And what we’re able to be about now is only possible because of what we started doing years ago. We went out trusting that God would bring us into life-giving relationships and praying for the grace to respond in love. With God’s help, we responded by creating a ministry around community health and healing in search of justice.
As circumstances keep changing, we need to stay open, we need to trust that God is leading us in what ways we respond next. By keeping our focus on relationships, we trust that God will move us to keep listening, keep aching for healing and a glimpse of Christ’s abundant life, keep responding as joys and concerns arise among our expanding community of care.