A friend of mine who is a social worker was telling me about a woman she worked with, a Kenyan, who had fled a physically abusive marriage to a safe house in Oxford. She had twins: a nine year old daughter, wheel-chair bound with cerebral palsy, and a son who had a physical or psychosomatic eating disorder, which made him grossly obese. The mother herself had continuous, splitting headaches with all the stress.
It transpired that the woman knew no one in the estate in which she was housed. “All she needs is a friend,” my friend said, almost in tears. “Just one friend. It’s not too much to ask, is it?”
But in a world, in which friendship has currency—“What do you have to offer me?—Are you cool, rich, clever, connected, highly-educated, beautiful, successful, lovely?”—what does this woman have to offer? Nothing.
She would have one need after another; anyone could see that immediately. I befriended a Zimbabawean, abandoned by her husband a year or so ago when she cleaned for me, and her needs were bottomless. I gave her my toaster, my computer (and upgraded), stuff from my house, stored her stuff after evictions (it’s still in my garage), got her other cleaning jobs, but there were more needs, and more. She constantly wanted to borrow money (which I did not lend, because that just gets people even deeper into debt). Helping someone whose needs are unlimited is very tiring and draining–and thankless, but eventually one needs to draw the line, and sometimes the last No rankles more than all the previous Yeses. I understand why this desperate woman, who had so little to offer, could not find a single friend.
So is there hope for her? Where can she find kindness? Where can she find a friend?
I can only think of one place. The beautiful, broken, yet unbowed church of Jesus Christ.
A place where people talk to strangers. Where you can appeal to the Vicar, and if he can help or connect you, a good one will. Where there might be a safety net of ministries for such as her, or means to connect her to them. Where there are befriending ministries, and prayer ministries, where people will spend time with you and ask nothing in return.
I am pausing now to pray for this lady, whose name I do not know. She told my friend she did not go to church, unlike many from her nation. May she meet some on-fire African who might invite her to church.
“The local Church is the hope of the world,” Bill Hybels said, in an often-quoted epigram.
He’s right. Nowhere else can we relax so quickly, and so deeply with people so different from us.
Build your church, Lord Jesus.