His parents were missionaries to Alaska. He was a medical doctor and clergyman and served the people of Imeloko, Zaire for thirteen years. A daughter was born there. She married a medical doctor and returned there with her husband. But when I met her she was living in a literal shack with their three children in a remote and isolated town in the American West, which was where she had been placed by her husband after he had flown in his private airplane ostensibly to a medical conference, but returned with a new wife, immediately kicking his family out of their home and into this hovel, which was right next door to their former Victorian mansion home, complete with a swimming pool. When I asked the people of the new church to which I had been called the manner in which they had addressed this they said that they had not because it was already difficult as it was to get any doctor to come to their depressed region, and besides, the doctor had been the single greatest donor to the church.
When I had gone there to candidate the doctor had not been in attendance, but his former wife had. I took her aside and we spoke for a very long time. She wept. I held her hand. She was the sweetest woman now alone with three teens; as of my coming he had found work in another state. She was left alone in that dump and she told me that he was sporadic with child support. She now cleaned toilets for a living and many months did not make ends meet.
The more I learned the more I became spitting angry. I thought to myself that if ever there was a reason to be booted out of ministry in a church or the denomination, this had to be it. My first Sunday in the church I was informed that he was going to return to town in his plane to finish up some business that weekend and that he might attend the worship service. And to the person who informed me of that I replied that if he did show up that I would stop the service and go out into the congregation and have words with him…that I would do so in order to pick a fight. He did not show up.
And as much as I had people who were critical of my approach, the vast majority were immediately supportive of me and would remain so for the next two years that I was there.
In spite of everything that I needed to do in coming to a new location my mind kept going over this lovely gal and her family, what they had endured (the doctor had hired his children to clean his pool), and what they now faced. There was another clergy in town whose congregation had given assistance to her since her own church had not. I had gotten to know him and he was an alright sorta guy. And one day I had a notion and drove to his place and asked him what he thought of it. That totally unannounced volunteers from the two churches would show up with everything necessary to fully refurbish her home and property and spend the day doing so. He and his wife were delighted. And so a week later about forty people arrived at dawn with lawn gear, shovels, fencing, paint, glazing, lumber, etc.. We had spied out our work unknown to its occupants. We greeted them in their pajamas, gave them breakfast and said to just sit back and watch (a directive that they did not follow). And by the end of the day the house had been totally repaired inside and out, and painted inside and out, and a new lawn seeded and property fully landscaped. It was the most beautiful transformation.
And she sat on her front steps and wept and wept in disbelief and gratitude.
I love you, I told her. We love you, they all said. We are sorry for everything and want your forgiveness for letting you down.
And with that healing started in her life and the lives of her children.
When something of value is stolen from someone, you need to give them something of value in return.
Her father came to visit her several times over the next years and every time he would come to visit me. And we would talk, mostly about development work, both overseas and local. And he would express his chagrin that churches in the denomination were so complacent when it came to living out the teachings of Christ…that people were so into themselves, and that leadership and hands-on teaching were needed in order to change this.
It is interesting. Just the year before I left the church on the East Coast for this one the denomination had decided that if you could not financially survive as clergy in a church that their policy would now be to ask the clergy to leave, get a job outside the church, pay off their debts, and to return to ministry. And that was ironic because that eastern congregation had been recommended to me by the bishop, I had built the congregation from 17 to 120, they had paid me a salary of $6K/year, and they had voted to instead of simply bringing up my salary to a level where I could pay my basic bills they would build a new education wing. And the bishop went along with all of this. What had I done wrong? The lack of leadership, the punitive nature of micromanagement, and the overarching lack of love of and service to the poor – even their own pastors – by the denomination had become more irksome to me by the day the more I witnessed the professionalization of this brand of what had devolved in being essentially a religious social club. Lunacy. I was coming to see that the church was made up of full blown idiots wrapped in stupidity.
What is more, this entire region would prove to be overbearingly hard on women. A major component of my doctoral work was in feminist studies. The works of Karen Blixen and Virginia Woolf had occupied major portions of my time complementing the training in psychotherapy and action sciences that I received. Woolf’s Diaries seared my heart forever. Her stream of consciousness cauterized the psychopathic abuse I witnessed in western society. Her insistence on artistic creativity in caring for others leaves aside the ideal and propelled me into actual actions that unleashed the actions of Christ into the lives of people. This was the most powerful stuff. Feminism was a rebirth for me personally.
My advocacy for the plight of rural women had officially begun.
Again, simply read the behaviour and respond with action. Forget about the words.
So this was my introduction to the social disaster that was to be my home for the next little while. And it would not be the end of serving this woman and her family and of through those experiences starting to work out the physical nature of living the radical nature of the teachings of Christ and the prodding that is inherent within them.
More to come…
The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer.
– A Room Of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf