A few days before Christmas in December 2020, the Outreach Sunday school class at Trinity United Methodist Church was searching for more ways to assist families in our county who had a need.
They reached out to the director of Henrico County Social Services. Quickly, he connected the class with caseworkers who knew of a couple of families who needed support.
With no hesitation, the class made arrangements to provide Christmas gifts for a young girl whose mother was not able to make this happen. Provided with clothing sizes and some gift ideas, two class members paired up and went on a shopping trip. Being wise shoppers with their purchases, they were also able to provide a gift card for the mother.
A couple of days before Christmas, the gifts were all wrapped and ready to be picked up by the caseworker. When the caseworker made the pickup, she was extremely appreciative of the support provided by the class.
The second family in need of assistance was going to require a different approach. The class was asked to provide help for a refugee family living in a local apartment who basically had no furniture. Whatever arrangement the family had for receiving furniture fell through.
The caseworker for this family provided us with a list of the basic furniture needs. With this information, the class started rummaging around their homes, and checking with neighbors and friends for furniture that might need a new home.
Trinity Hall at our church became the site for dropping off and storing the items until we could coordinate a delivery date with the family. Immediately before Christmas and into the early days of the new year, furniture began to arrive in Trinity Hall.
Via the caseworker and the class, we were able to coordinate a delivery date.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, January 13, I took a ride over to the apartment complex where the family resides. I found the apartment and knocked on the door.
Promptly, the door opened, I was greeted by a very nice lady who apparently did not speak English. She called out a name, and a young man, in his early teens appeared. He spoke English with an easy command.
I explained who I was and told him we were planning to make a furniture delivery tomorrow afternoon. He confirmed that tomorrow afternoon would work with the family’s schedule. I could detect a bit of excitement on his face. I handed him my card with my contact information, and asked him to call me if there was a change in plans for the family.
So just before 1 p.m. on Thursday, January 14, members of the Outreach class showed up at Trinity Hall. They had rented a U-Haul truck to load and transport the furniture. Another class member was going to bring his trailer for loading any pieces that would not fit on the U-Haul.
It didn’t take long for the U-Haul to be loaded and packed. A few extra items remained, and once the trailer arrived, those pieces were loaded.
Drivers were given the address, and eventually we were organized and departing.
Luckily, the apartment was ground level. But, we still needed stable footwork to maneuver along the sidewalk and some steps to arrive at the front door.
I have no idea how long we were there. But, upon reflection, I think the scene of unloading the furniture probably resembled the frenzied chaos of comedy found in a classic Marx Brother’s movie.
Essentially, I think we overwhelmed the family with the assortment of furniture that had been collected for them. But, I also believe it was a mild collision of Afghanistan and American cultures.
One minute a piece of furniture was a good fit for the family. But, in the next minute, thinking changed, and a piece of furniture would be removed and carried back out side. This back and forth bartering took place a handful of times.
Donations that we believed to be potentially very useful from our eyes did not have the same match with the family we were trying to help.
Eventually, final selections were agreed upon, and the shuffling of furniture back and forth came to an end.
I know at times, we were pondering in our noggins trying to understand the rationale of the thinking from the refugee family about certain things. But, I wonder how we might have felt if as Americans we were suddenly thrust to live in an unfurnished apartment in Afghanistan.
We culled the remaining items into two loads—one for Goodwill and one for the county dump.
I rode with the team going to the dump.
Even COVID-19 has turned the dump upside down.
Prior to the pandemic, there was a section at the dump named— Too Good To Throw Away. All kinds of items were dropped off under that shelter. During the course of daily operating hours, clever scavengers would visit and claim those items for resale or repurposing.
This afternoon, we had only one sad option—heaving our load into a large dumpster. To our left and right, people were doing the same as us tossing junk into dumpsters.
Maybe some day after I’m long gone, the world will finally spin off of its axis. And as observers watch this spectacle from outer space, they will conclude this demise occurred because the amount of waste buried in the earth created an imbalance. The gyroscopes below the crust could no longer handle the stressful, wobble of being out of alignment—kaboom—another big bang theory.
I learned a lot about the wobble of life on this unusually pretty January afternoon.
If our class ever helps out a refugee family again with furniture, I think we will have some options to consider on how we make this happen in a different way.
Despite the fact that we are rapidly aging, we can still move furniture around with the best of them.
Added to that, we haven’t lost our sense of humor in working with each other in circumstances like this afternoon.
And most importantly, our hearts still want to help, to give, to make a difference, and I sense that desire will be with us until we take our last breath of life.
In the chaos of the afternoon, there was one constant at the family’s apartment, a son, who was called “D”.
A freshman student at a local high school, D was our interpreter. He was the negotiator, the go between. He had the tough job of telling us “no” when a piece of furniture or some other donated item did not pass the test.
D played his part well. We and his parents would have been lost without his skills.
Just as we were about to depart, D got my attention. He had a request.
D wondered if we might have access to a bicycle. I told him we would work something out, but it might take a bit of time. A slight smile creased his hopeful face.
Maybe the following scripture sums up what took place this afternoon:
3 John 1:5: “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.”
Good words for me to remember as I try to faithfully wobble through life.