By: Susan Naslund
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19
When the guests of the Interfaith Shelter arrived at Foothills at the end of January, we were ready. More than 40 volunteers had signed up to make home cooked meals, to sacrifice evenings as overnight hosts, and to provide transportation to the trolley and back. Others transformed the Youth Center into a comfortable inn -- complete with a living room, dining room, and several bedrooms. The bathrooms were converted to spas. Still others helped organize, remind, back up and encourage. The Missions Committee is very appreciative of all who pitched in to serve, supported us financially and held us in their thoughts and prayers during those two weeks this winter. Regulars and new folks alike were dependable and flexible, and made significant contributions to the success of the shelter. Each person doing their part made a whole expression of love and care to our guests.
It was a big job, but together we accomplished what we set out to do -- provide for a short time a place for ten homeless people to eat and rest.
We also knew taking part in the shelter would be a time to learn from our guests. Stories shared educated us about the hardships of finding a job after serving time in jail for a misdemeanor, of not being able to work because of an illness, and of being a pregnant, single mother of two without a home.
It was a stressful job, but together we accomplished what we had set out to do -- lend an ear and become more educated about the programs in place to help solve homelessness and become more compassionate about the issues that contribute to homelessness. I did not imagine that I would learn the most this year from one of our own volunteers.
Working every evening during the two-week shelter, Foothills member William Teysko was our tireless Kitchen Manager. He set the tables for each meal, washed dishes, and managed leftovers. He made sure there were things like salt and pepper, cream and sugar. Each day he scoured thrift stores for clothes he knew our guests needed -- a special dress shirt for a job interview for one and something to wear to work for another. Each night William gathered the group in a circle and led them in prayer.
It was a generous job, but he accomplished what he set out to do – share first class love to those who often get what is only second-rate.
One evening when I came to the shelter, William was sitting at the table folding napkins and slipping them in the handles of ten coffee mugs filled with water and a slice of lemon. "We are having fried chicken tonight, and I thought we needed finger bowls," explained William.
Those mugs of water have become the unofficial symbol of the Interfaith Shelter at Foothills. For me, the mugs represent a love to all foreigners as described in Deuteronomy. We have all found ourselves in distress at some time, and found mercy with God. We should be ready to show such kindness to others who have been in like distress. It should be extravagant kindness. Everyone deserves a finger bowl in a disposable napkin world.
Whether he knows it or not, William has accomplished something even greater than what we collectively set out to do as part of the Interfaith Shelter – he has singlehandedly demonstrated the kind of mercy asked of us in scripture, to the foreigner and to me. It is something I will never forget, and pray that I might often do the same. Amen.