here at salt and light we get a lot of people taking things from under our noses. it’s hard to say no when we generally give everything away for free. but when we have volunteers who constantly ask, we wonder. and we also have volunteers who like to take without asking food and clothing and other items above and beyond what we have prescribed so that all may have a share. it’s hard to label it as stealing, as, again, everything is free. but when one is essentially taking away from others, and when this almost-stealing becomes a habit, and then there are lies to cover up that habit, well, then we have a bigger problem on our hands. unfortunately we recently had to ask a long-time volunteer to not come back because it was such a problem. we feel lame about this as she has not had the easiest of lives and we want to help whoever however we can. but where is the line? i try to go by the thought, ‘do for one or some what you wish you could do for all.’ that means bending the rules sometimes. and if this volunteer had just but asked us, more often than not we would have given above and beyond, depending on the situation. but we couldn’t deal anymore with the sneakiness, the shadiness, what amounts to underhanded and often stealing. and that hurts.
i saw this often in rome with the refugees. guys would go through the food line at the scottish church with different hats or whatever else and try to get another meal. but what they may not see is that that is another meal that someone doesn’t get, that someone then has to mooch of their friends. there were unfortunately a very limited amount of meals, a very set number. but another of my refugee friends used to sneak through the meal line at the train station and get food for me (even when i would tell him i didn’t need it); this was his gift to me. and i was ok with this to a point. those catholic groups serving meals would almost always have some leftovers. sometimes they even came to me with a meal when all the refugees had one themselves. and because i was there so much anyway my refugee friends would often want share their meals with me. (i offended one guy when me and my already full stomach refused, so i forced myself to eat anyway).
i read about this taking more than your share also in the book what is the what by dave eggers, telling the story of valentino achak deng and his escape from the violence in sudan to refugees camps in ethiopia and kenya and eventually to america. in the camp in kenya he lived for a while with a man who kept hoping that his family would soon join him. and one day they did. but even with him and his wife and their kids and valentino having food cards and daily proscribed rations, it was not enough to feed everyone well. so valentino sneaked out of the refugee camp and across the border into sudan and then came back to the camp pretending to be a new refugee, receiving a new food card that would add to the family’s daily rations. sneakiness, but with a goal, a good, helpful end. and if there was still enough food for everyone coming in, then why not serve it? i imagine that the aid workers in kenya were mostly aware that this sort of thing happened often. but what are they to do? how do you weed out the sneaky ones? i guess they have no other option but to just feed people.
we wonder about this with clothing as well. there are a lot of african and hispanic families that come to the clothing distribution every week and take garbage bags filled with clothes each time. we figure that unless they have large rooms filled with hoarded clothes, they are selling it or sending it back home or whatever else. to that i say ok, let them. if our free clothes are helping other beyond just our clients than fine. and if they are selling the clothes they get for free even though i understand that is mildly unlawful, then i hope the added income helps them get by a little better. and for other times, we try and do for one or some what we should could do for all.
last sunday stephanie’s brother joel, having had a rough week, wanted to get out of the house, and the suburbs. he drove down and spent the night with us and we three talked for a good long while. joel is a pretty quiet guy, something i understand, but it was darn good to have real actual conversations with him. he is technically my brother now; i guess i should get to know him more. the next day i skipped work and we drove into indiana, to turkey run state park, land of sandstone cliffs and canyons, home to rivers and valleys. and lots of frozen things. it is my treasured, wondrous, little corner of the corn desert. the day was a harsh grey, threatening snow. we wandered far, on and off the set trails, finding small adventures anywhere we could. much better this time than hiking with the entire salt and light staff; i could climb anything i wanted to, knowing joel would do the same, and often more. edges of the river, the majority of creeks, sections of even small waterfalls were all iced. vast pillars of ice huddled together along rocky outcroppings, sheeting entire sections of stone. the ice built up around and under every dripping thing until piles of bubbled white caked large areas of the ground. entire walls of ice were erected around the cascades. we climbed fallen logs, we walked across frozen pools, we jumped across wide gaps, we admired the trees, skipped rocks, breathed fresh air. flashbacks and memories of washington coasts and creeks, joshua tree, any number of places where i have been known to climb things came pouring back. my arms and legs remembered their old strengths again. a new conviction rose in me this day, that i surely need more of such adventures in my life.
tim and rachel are taking a long and much-needed break from their life in rome to relax in the states. they were in the chicago area last week, at international teams. so steph and i made the drive up last friday and hung out with them for the evening. though we have skyped a couple times, this was steph’s first meeting of tim and rachel in person. great to just talk about anything and everything again with people i hadn’t seen in over a year. but what a year! a fair amount of new developments for both of us. while it has been a bit of a rough year for them in rome, we pray for a wonderfully restful season in the states. good things come in other ways too, as they will be getting a few more team members this fall to hang out with the refugees and do the various million other tasks awaiting willing hands. and of course talking about them and writing about some of my experiences there earlier in this post makes me want to go back to rome.