The following was contributed by Major Mark Brown, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Coastal Alabama Area Command and featured as part of AL.com’s “Neediest Families” Campaign. Visit http://www.al.com/neediest-families/ to read more.
Surely I had been given the wrong address. Cracked windows, broken blinds and a feeling of abandonment had overtaken the small dwelling. Then the curtain moved. As I got out of my car, the front door scraped open and an elderly man (let’s call him Jack), leaning heavily on his walking cane, beckoned me inside.
I was visiting one of Coastal Alabama’s Neediest Families, a privilege that is mine as commander for area Salvation Army services. I say privilege because I get to meet people at some of the toughest times in their lives and then, through the ministry of The Salvation Army and the generosity of our donors, provide food, clothes, furniture and financial assistance that can make the difference between hopelessness and seeing light at the end of what is often a long, dark tunnel.
I found out later that Jack, a former education department employee, doesn’t invite people inside his home often. I could see why. The only furniture in the house apart from some old beds was a small round coffee table, one adult garden chair and three children’s garden chairs. Jack sat, I stood. Also, Jack was a lot younger than I originally thought. He was taking care of his three young children, three of the brightest, most polite and well-mannered children I have ever met.
Jack’s story is not uncommon. The causes may differ, but the outcomes are similar: A challenging marriage, a low-paying job, fewer hours at work, then disaster. In Jack’s case, his house and all his belongings were destroyed in a fire five years ago. Shortly afterward, he had to quit his job following leg surgery which left him unable to walk or stand except for short periods. Jack receives some money for his disability and he uses this to pay bills and buy food, clothes and the essentials for his children. Replacing the sofa, dining table, chairs and other furnishings destroyed in the fire is simply unaffordable, and so the family eats either sitting on the floor or on their beds. Homework is typically done on the bed.
This past week, just in time for Christmas, we took Jack and his three children a sofa, dining table and chairs. This is why I mentioned earlier what a privilege it is for me to visit with some of our area’s neediest families who are grateful, beyond words, for these unexpected gifts from caring, unknown neighbors in our Coastal Alabama community.
Advice I can recall being given regularly by my mother and grandmother was that there is always someone worse off than me. As a child, I didn’t really understand or benefit from these words of wisdom. As an adult, I see them lived out in our shelters and those seeking welfare assistance from The Salvation Army every day.
You can read their stories at AL.com:
The mother with terminal cancer whose husband left the family just a few weeks after the diagnosis was confirmed.
The young family struggling to get on their feet again following job loss and illness.
The mother of four with a debilitating disease that makes walking a difficulty, yet every day she cooks using a neighbor’s stove and brings the hot food across the busy road to her family.
The single father of two teenage boys working two jobs to make ends meet, who then must be hospitalized.
Or the recently widowed grandmother of an autistic child she is caring for who suddenly needs open-heart surgery following a heart attack just weeks after she spent her savings on her husband’s funeral.
For many reading this, these circumstances will be all too familiar in your own lives or those of family members. Others of us have been spared the distress, worry and uncertainty these circumstances create. We are the fortunate ones.
I’ve been a Salvation Army officer for 35 years. It is a God-given privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus working with people going through these toughest times.
As I work with men, women and children experiencing crisis situations, I am always encouraged by the words in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us that whenever we feed the hungry, provide clothing or shelter to a stranger, whenever we take care of someone who is sick or support the prisoner – we do all of this as if for Jesus himself.
To support The Salvation Army’s services for individuals like Jack, visit http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/.