“It’s easy to drive past all of the manicured lawns and pristine homes and miss the reality that an element of the population there is quietly struggling with life…“
“Hopelessness shows up on our doorstep in many forms.“
“When the Church becomes the hands and feet of Jesus, people are drawn to it.“
“Our hope… is that they’ll get to know us better and say ‘Just maybe this is where love is.’“
Even in the most thriving of communities there are shadows, dark and menacing and, for the most part, completely hidden. It’s easy to drive past all of the manicured lawns and pristine homes and miss the reality that an element of the population there is quietly struggling with life on a daily basis, and many have lost hope that the tide will ever turn for them. And, not surprisingly, these hopeless ones are tucked into and among the wealthiest and most educated among us.
This conundrum presents an opportunity for the Church to do what it has always done best, if it only will. It is interesting that when the story of Jesus is told, we find that he was always on the lookout for the needy and the lost. When he came to town, he didn’t stay at the Four Seasons, though he certainly could have if he had chosen to. Instead, he stayed down by the pool of Siloam where the sick and the physically challenged lived. Why? Because He knew His unique place in the world and his calling and mission. “People who are not sick don’t need a doctor,” he said (my paraphrase).
The Great Physician showed up despite the dangers and the lack of creature comforts to do what only He could do. Healing and wholeness followed Him everywhere He went, and though we don’t know exactly what happened to these people after they met Him, the likelihood is their lives got markedly better going
forward. Hope has a way of doing that for us. Just a single ray can lift our hearts exponentially. I would guess that their story of meeting Jesus and the impact that He had on them became the central narrative of their lives going forward. How could they ever forget this man who touched their eyes so that they could see again? Or the healer who showed compassion and helped them walk, perhaps for the first time? The experience was unforgettable in every sense of the word. Hope showed up in human form, and lifted them. That experience can’t help but etch a lasting memory, one that gets into our DNA. An unbreakable relationship is forged that literally lasts forever.
We in the church are commanded in the scriptures by Jesus himself to go and do likewise, to show up and do whatever we can do to lift the hopeless. But, here in the shiny and prosperous land we live in, how we will know or recognize the neediest among us?
First, we have to understand that hopelessness shows up on our doorstep in many forms. For the sizable population of immigrants in Vienna, Virginia, for example, there is the real fear of being deported. There is also the feeling among this segment of our population that their kids have somehow moved on, become westernized, learned English, and become separated from the family unit. That creates a lot of angst in a parent’s heart, especially if there is no one to guide you through it and mitigate the fear.
There is also poverty. There is abuse and domestic violence. Each of these issues have cycles that become ingrained in the culture and in each individual that, without an intervention of some kind, become a way of life that can go on and on from one generation to the next with increasing damage, both collateral and otherwise. And, yes, this is all going on right down the street from you and I, no matter where we are.
As is always the case when we are faced with these issues, we essentially have “Hopelessness shows up on our doorstep in many forms. “ two choices: To drive by and look away, or to roll up our shirtsleeves and get to work in the trenches, near “the pools of Siloam” in our own towns and cities. Thankfully, the churches in Vienna have chosen the latter in their effort to “go and do likewise.” Vienna Presbyterian Church has made their building available to a weekly meeting of a local domestic violence support group. Volunteers are even cooking hot meals for the attendees, most of whom are in hiding and have lost much of their self-worth in their struggles at home. A meal for many people is just a meal. But for these folks, a meal is a timely reminder that they really do matter in the grand scheme of things, and they are loved no matter how unlovable they may feel at this point in their lives.
Vienna Presbyterian Church Mitigating Hopelessness
There are programs at Vienna Presbyterian to teach English to immigrants and help them better understand how to become citizens. They have had over 400 in their ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs this year, and the church even provides professional child care services so that attending is easier.
Perhaps most surprising: Hunger is also an issue in Vienna. “Fifty families within a half mile of us do not have enough food on weekends,” says Sue Hamblen, Director of Missions at Vienna Presbyterian Church. “We’ve seen distended bellies and other signs of malnutrition.” Go ahead and ask yourself the question that any of us would ask: How is this possible in a land that has so much?
Thankfully, the churches in Vienna are joining forces with Vienna Presbyterian, catching the vision for what could be, and starting complementary programs of their own to effectively deal with all of these issues.
All of this activity by the churches is sure to be transformational. It always has been. When the Church becomes the hands and feet of Jesus, people are drawn to it. “There is help here,” they say. It is unconditional and kind. There is safety there, and love. People who don’t even know you are sacrificing their time, money and resources to meet your need. No strings attached and no litmus test for your beliefs or status in the world. How can that kind of love not impact us?
When people in his day became aware that Jesus truly cared for them, that there were answers and healing wherever He went, an interesting thing happened; He didn’t have to look so hard for people who needed help. They started coming to Him. And, when they did, they all found what they needed, healing and the hope that better days were ahead.
The Outreach Team at Vienna Presbyterian Church is trying to replicate that success story, one day and one individual at a time. “Our hope,” says Ms. Hamblen, “Is that they’ll get to know us better and say ‘Just maybe this is where love is.”
VIENNA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
124 PARK STREET N.E.
VIENNA, VA 22180