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She called today. Soft-spoken, courteous, hesitant. “My husband just got laid-off,” she said. “He’s applied for unemployment, but that won’t start until next week. They’re going to turn our lights off if we don’t pay the $150 we owe. I was wondering if your church could help us?” The four churches in our small town contribute to a “ministers’ fund” which coordinates emergency help for local residents.

“Where do you live?” I asked. She was honest, “We live in Danville.” Danville is twenty miles away, not in our community, and our guidelines limit our help to the Chatham area. “I’m sorry, we have limited funds and we can only help folks in our community,” I explained. A long pause. “Well, thank you,” she said. I could hear the resignation in her voice. “God bless you,” I said. “Thank you.” She hung up. Immediately James 2:16 pushed its way into my consciousness:

“If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

“We have our rules. We have limited funds. We can’t help everybody,” I argued to myself. But, I could have helped her. I could have broken the rules, made an exception, listened with my heart instead of my head. Ironically, I offer the invocation tomorrow night at the Community Action Annual Dinner where our community will celebrate another year of helping the poor. Today I missed an opportunity. Maybe I can find this soft-spoken, shy woman tomorrow. Maybe we can help after all. I’ll let you know.

UPDATE:  I called Social Services today and described the lady who called me.  The case worker I spoke with said, “We have so many people in that same situation, I have no idea who it might be.”  No luck.  Maybe some other church somewhere was able to help.  I hope so.