We had a record month for our church for Angel Food (the link is on this page). Angel Food helps people stretch the groceries. We call it a hand-up ministry rather than a hand-out ministry because it requires people to budget, to plan, and to be responsible. In a way, it teaches people to fish. As with every previous record month, there was a major screw-up (almost like somebody wants this ministry to fail). The USDA and AFM had sent the pre-prepared meals to the Gulf Coast to feed the victims of Hurricane Ike. They were supposed to have saved enough to fill our orders, but somebody made a mistake counting. So, here we were, no Special #4's and less than half our Senior Boxes. Connie and Pauline were warning people at the front, and Judy, Jennifer and finally I were re-explaining at the check-out. The responses were both everything we might expect and beyond our wildest expectations.
Some people were mad. They had paid for food and did not get it (AFM will get them the food next month, so theft will not be an issue). When you are living on food stamps, you can't afford mistakes like this. What will they eat this month? Other people were understanding. They understood that the victims of Ike lacked power and even kitchens in which to cook food. By comparison, they were better off than those in the natural disaster area. "At least it went to a good cause." A couple teased me if we were finally going to steal their money. For two years they have told me they expect me to take their money and not give them any food at some point in the future -- "that's what Christians really do." And still others were worried about our possible response to the attitudes expressed that day. As I carried food out for those who could not carry their own, some begged me not to listen to the ungrateful, "Father, I could not buy my medicine without this ministry." "Father, I cannot feed my grandkids without this ministry." "Father, I cannot live without this ministry." All added "Please do not listen to the angry people. Listen to those of us that are thankful." That is the background.
So here I was, Monday morning, working on the bulletin and wondering if it was really worth it, but thankful that God had encouraged me in the midst of a bad day (I love this ministry, and look forward to it each month. When it goes wrong, it is double bad because I know the harm it causes.) And into my office walks a man whom I had only met twice. I knew his name. I knew a little about his history. I knew that he had fallen away from his church. God had seemingly abandoned his church; why should he waste time on God? And here he was, in my office, unsure of why this feeling so bothered him, wanting to apologize to ladies that he did not know and who did not know how he felt about them. As we talked, he discovered that he was no different than those in the Bible who rejected Jesus' ministry among them, and it hurt him. For so long, he has sat in judgment of God convinced that he was wronged by God, and so he has set out to live a good life. And when confronted by an incarnational ministry, he rejected God's servant. For all his protestations to the contrary, he was a sinner in need of God's saving grace. We prayed. I invited him to church, wishing that this meeting had been Friday or Saturday, knowing that the week would interfere with his insight. But for a moment, I got to see a fruit ripen before my eyes. This man is so close to being loved into the Kingdom. And Jennifer's and Judy's, as well as everyone who showed up Saturday afternoon to serve while Iowa was losing to Northwestern, servant hearts had softened this man's heart and given him eyes to see his own need.
It is harvest time here in Iowa. Whatever crops not damaged by the floods are being gathered into barns and prepared for market. Some of the crops look pathetic, damaged by the weather. Hmmm. Just like some of us. Some of our growth has been been stunted by the events of our lives, and yet God still wants to gather us into His Kingdom. And just when we think we do not need help or others are beyond help, His laborers show up, faithfully laboring. And just like that, in the conviction of a heart, the old is made new, the dead is given new life! Thanks be to God!