You might not expect to hear a guy in prison talk about respect and gratitude for police, but that’s what I heard recently. I had asked my study group I to talk about times when they’d felt supported and cared for during a crisis. It was heartbreaking at first to hear many of them relate how they’d had no care or support from their families since they were middle-school age. Then Anthony spoke up.
He told us about how he had been using what little money he had to make his way across the state in early 2020 to try to deal with some court cases. He was just about broke when he got off the bus at a central Wisconsin station in mid-March, where he heard the news that there would be no bus service the next day — the COVID quarantine had begun. No buses running, no shelters available, no government offices open, nothing. And no money. Anthony was stranded in that city like a starfish on a beach at low tide.
“I wasn’t the only one,” Anthony told us. “All of us who were homeless in that town stuck out like a sore thumb — nobody else was out on the streets. But that turned out to be a good thing, because there were good people who started driving around looking for us, to bring us food and get us into shelter. Most of those people were first responders — cops and firefighters and nurses and EMTs. A lot of them had time on their hands because of the quarantine, and they decided to use that time to go looking for people who needed help, people like me.”
Anthony had encountered people who were driven to help other people. They’d gravitated into careers as frontline workers, where they could be of direct help — and when those careers didn’t offer them enough opportunities to help people, they created their own opportunities. Anthony didn’t mention that any of them talked about doing this work as their response to God’s grace, but they were doing God’s work whether they were aware of it or not.
The drive to help people can of course be a blessing — it was for Anthony. It can also turn into a curse for the people with that drive, if they’re so driven to help other people that they don’t recognize it when THEY become the people who need help. And they do become those people — when the stress they feel and the traumas they experience are too big to handle alone. IM offers frontline workers an alternative to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope — individual counseling and support groups. People who are used to being strong for others sometimes need to let someone else be strong for them, someone like Jesus. Then they can keep on doing God’s work, aware of the gracious presence of the God who works with them and in them.