Now, I am quite partial to a parcel myself, although, I have had to accept, given my family’s medical history and my tendency to put on weight when within a 10-metre radius of delicious delights - sweet or savoury - that I need to move on to an internalised discussion of the weather whenever it occurs to me how tasty these calorie-bombs would be. But, not having the same need for such draconian discipline, ‘she’ decided to pursue her dream of enjoying fish ‘n’ chips for supper.
Her story was interesting, though intricate. In short, her plans for an enjoyable supper were frustrated and she had to content herself with something else. However, the craving persisted and the next day she determined to make her way to the out-of-the-way fish shop where, according to her, the fare was exceptional. (I will refrain from sharing the blatant commercial which followed at this point in her story!)
It was after work on a Friday evening and she was tired but excited at the prospect of finally satisfying a longing that had been with her for well over 24 hours, and which placed her on a road she would not normally have travelled. As she made her expectant way to the fish shop, she passed a young woman. She noticed three things as she passed by:
1.The woman was travelling – she had luggage with her;
2.The woman was in distress – she was drunk and had alcohol with her;
3.The woman was vulnerable.
Having walked on past the woman, our fish-and-chips-lover stopped while an internal debate raged – “Friday night. Tired. Hungry. Longing for that fish. Significant risk. What to do about the problem.” – before turning and walking back to the woman.
Some five hours later, having retraced her steps, spoken to the woman, engaged the help of a stranger, led the woman to a place of shelter, discovered that the appropriate services could not help, waited until a loved one could come for the woman, she resumed her crusade to get the fish ‘n’ chips. (Her choice was sold out, but she made do with what was available.)
Last Sunday, as I sat listening to this testimony from a woman who belongs to the corps I attend, I found myself thinking and praying.
She had met several obstacles on the way to securing that young woman’s safety:the place where she took the woman had ceased to be a shelter; the corps officer was not available when she rang; the nearest appropriate services failed to respond despite phone conversations.
All of this information was shared matter-of-factly, without rancour – they were merely points in her story. She did not dwell on the lack of adequate support – like Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet, she just did what she could.
As she spoke, I thought about:politicians who, when addressing the many challenges we face – the NHS, in-work poverty, challenges with the benefit system, immigration, Europe and more – use most of their response time attacking their opponents instead of seeking to work together to find solutions; organisations serving those who are destitute, including The Salvation Army. I considered how complicated that service can be, with processes, safeguards and parameters – imposed from without and within, all hindering immediate and compassionate help; myself – rushing to fulfil my version of the ‘fish ‘n’ chips fantasy’, beating yesterday’s time on my daily walk, relaxing after a hectic day, going somewhere with Marianne, catching a game on TV, passing the equivalent of the woman with her luggage (one does not have to go searching in London), and feeling challenged as I recalled some of my latest passings-by of those who were in need. Although one of the most recent encounters had had the potential for a lengthy intervention – until the ‘woman with the luggage’ chose to turn down my offer of support but not cash – none of my encounters had resulted in a five-hour delay in getting my ‘fish ‘n’ chips’.
As I listened, I found myself praying: ‘Lord, turn my cravings into opportunities and give me the selfless obedience to turn those opportunities into ministry and my ministry into testimony!’