The True Fast, Pt. 1 -By Angie

Opening the creaky apartment door, the cell phone was thrown to the floor with my purse and lunch bag. Social work is exhausting especially for us introverted types. The place was stifling hot like a slow-cooking oven. Pulling back the windows to let in the 100 degree air didn’t help either. But the heat is like a “welcome home” hug which is nice since there are no arms to greet me. My stiff muscles relax with the warmth. Too much desk work and stress twists knots in my back and neck. As I make my salad, the floor vibrates like an oven timer.

The number on the screen is unfamiliar to me. So I don’t answer it. No message is left. I go back to my lettuce. A minute later the cellular contraption buzzes again. Same number. Really? By looking at the first three digits I can guess it’s a Cricket phone. And who usually purchases those? My refugee clients. Ignoring it, I come back a second time to try and chew my quickly wilting greens. Three strikes and you’re out! It hums a third time with still no voice message left. I’m fuming now. Who gave out my number to a client? The muscles tighten again.

The next morning at the office I’m slammed with meetings for newly arrived refugees. By day’s end I just want to escape for a quiet walk in the hills. Oh yeah…that number. I type it into the Statewide Refugee Information System (SRIS). Hum…it’s my sweet little Catholic Chin lady from Burma. I begin to connect the dots. She must have gotten it from another gal who is my Burmese language tutor. But she knows not to give out my personal number. What was so important that it couldn’t wait until business hours? A message on my work phone holds the answer. The fireman explains my need to contact my client.

She came into the office with calm composure but once the conference room door closed her tears flowed. Her voice cracked and became a wail. Though her English is good I couldn’t make out some of the words; her grief was too heavy. “I can’t cry in front of my boys.” She is aware of her need to be a strong pillar for her three boys. But with the shame of a husband who abandoned them in Burma, her relatives here in town despising her “situation” in life and now with the addition of this most recent disaster, she feels crushed.

How many times can a person be a refugee? First they flee for their lives from Burma to Malaysia. They are homeless upon arrival. Digging out a rough existence on survival mode is their lot. But they are a few of the lucky ones – per year less than 1% of refugees are resettled to third countries to start a new life. But what do you do if you become homeless less than two months after you arrive? You know very little about how the cultural system operates in your new environment, let alone what to do when trouble hits you.

She swears that no one was in the apartment. The boys were playing outside and she was just coming back from visiting a friend. She knew there was trouble when she looked through the sliding glass door to see the blinds melting. It’s been a hot and dry Idaho summer…but not that hot. Flinging the door aside, black smoke billowed out and flared up to the neighbor’s balcony. Her friend jumped into the gagging stench, grabbed a pot, turned on the tap in the sink and frantically poured water onto the stove fire.

As we walked through the aftermath, the place doesn’t look completely wrecked. But fire restoration deems it unlivable in this condition. Only the kitchen was severely affected with charred cupboards, walls and ceiling. The rest of the unit is tinged smoky gray; the smoke damage reaches into the lungs if you breathe too deep.

Her head is bowed. She keeps her tears inaudible in front of the landlord. We sit in the apartment office as the tubby woman smugly declares that she has made her apartment unit “uninhabitable” and therefore her lease it terminated. Place her in another unit? Oh no. We won’t be able to rent to her again.

Red Cross steps forward to provide “comfort kits”, a pre-loaded credit card to purchase hot food and several days’ worth of hotel vouchers. As the days go by, we assist her to apply to other apartment complexes. They look at her “bad rental history” and refuse to rent to her. Homeless in a country that is not your home. An inter-faith shelter steps forward to pay for an extended hotel stay because their own beds are full of other homeless folks.

We wait. We pray. We pound on church doors via emails and the phone. Not just any churches. Our own churches; churches were we have compassionate contacts. Doesn’t anyone have a place for her and her kids to stay? She has government refugee assistance still; she can pay her rent…if someone would just rent to her.

It’s Ramadan right now for those who follow Islam. They fast from all food, water, cigarettes, etc. during daylight hours and eat like kings during the darkness. The focus is to remember the poor who don’t have enough to eat and to remember to care for them. An Iraqi interpreter teases, “I’m your brother now. During Ramadan I become a Christian”. His lack of focus reveals he is jittery for a smoke break that he can’t have until dusk. One of our Somali interpreters asks me why I’m not fasting for Ramadan.

It’s a rare opportunity to get to bust out a Bible verse during business hours without getting accused of pushing religious views on clients of other beliefs. But she opened the door and I gladly walk through. The words of Isaiah pound in my heart – “Is not this the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…”(Isaiah 58:6-7). She pulls her mouth down, furrows her brows and nods her head up and down in agreement.

Her mind is still on the importance of food while mine is fixated on providing shelter.

Filed under: Angie

  1. Lana
    My family was burned out of their house 11 years ago. The firemens' burnout fund paid for a few nights in a hotel for us. We had spent every dime on moving in to that house three days before and had nothing left for a new first, last and deposit on a new house. All of our furniture and clothes were ruined. Sitting in the hotel (which had three days paid on it) I started calling churches for help. 8 kids and a single mom needing a place to live ASAP. Even the mega churches who owned apartments and housing for people in need. Not ONE, SINGLE church would give us the time of day. Not even the one we attended or the ones we'd attended years prior. I remembered a verse that used to inspire me: "A religion that is pure and stainless according to God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows who are suffering, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." No help from the church. I called every protestant, evangelical, charismatic, pentecostal, baptist etc. in the phone book. Then I called the Red Cross who immediately drove 20 miles to my location and handed a credit card to the hotel to pay for our hotel for weeks until we got on our feet. Thanks Clara Barton, at least your inspiration lives on. And thanks to the American Red Cross. I will always owe them a debt of gratitude. Did your lady get a place?
    • Angie
      Wow Lana...I had no idea this happened to your family. Yes, I'm right there with you in my sadness that structured "churches" didn't respond both for your family and my client & her kids. James 1:27 is still a verse that inspires me and keeps me in this field. It's my guess that it still resonates with you too. Yes, the Red Cross did the same thing for her coming within an hour of calling, providing the 3 nights in the hotel and a credit card for food. Despite no organized churches responding, I was deeply thankful for individuals who stepped up and helped in little ways. Part of me wonders...if I had of labeled her as something that's a hot topic (i.e. a trafficking victim), then would the "business" oriented churches have responded?? God only knows. After being homeless and in a hotel for one-day-shy-of-a-month, she moved into an apartment today with her boys. No apartment manager would rent to her because of her "bad rental history". But you know who did? Good ole William at GB! And you know what else gives me hope? He just became a Christian. There are believers out there who practice James 1:27. Thank God! And thank you for sharing your story too. I'm thankful for you!!
  2. Carole Jones
    Oh Angie, I love your writing and the topic today is so heart wrenching--bring on Part 2; I want to know how your client is doing. Without you she would be lost! It's hard to put into practice all the acts we Christians are told to do, especially when that act invades our space. ILY
    • Angie
      Dear Aunt Carole - Thank you for your comment. It's so true. It's uncomfortable to welcome a stranger into our own home; it's uncomfortable to cross the proverbial Samaritan road to help someone in need. But God provides and often in ways and timing we cannot see. Today, after almost a month, her and her boys moved into an apartment. No manager would rent to her because of the fire...but we found ONE...and the best part? He just became a Christian ;) I have hope in our God! Love you!!
  3. Tom & Robyn Galka
    Once again, you have moved me to tears. Please send us a list or something that you are in most critical need of so we can help. Can feel your exhaustion and hard work. Take care of yourself while taking such good care of others. Gal 6:9. Love you girl. Praying for you and your work.
  4. Al Kutz
    Dear Angie, I thank the Lord for the compassion and commitment you have for those you have been intrusted with. Today (Wed. 8/8) I meet with a group of brothers in Christ and will be praying for you and those you are serving. keep in touch and share with me your needs. I love you very much,Grandpa Mt. 25:31-46
    • Al Kutz
      Dear Angie, I thank the Lord for the compassion and commitment you have for those you have been intrusted with. Today (Wed. 8/8) I meet with a group of brothers in Christ and will be praying for you and those you are serving. keep in touch and share with me your needs. I love you very much,Grandpa Mt. 25:31-46
    • Angie
      My dear grandpa, Thank you for your encouragement, you prayers and for sharing with your group. This gal and her kids have another apartment now but still need God's strength to start again, one more time! I love you! -angie
  5. Angie
    Thank you so much Tom & Robyn! Yes, though I do get weary, I'm so encouraged when the "harvest is reaped in the proper time". You know what? Her and her boys were very fortunate. They lost hardly anything in the fire; most of the damage was smoke damage to the apartment. And the biggest problem was that the manager wouldn't rent to her again. And the funny thing? She still has six months of government cash assistance to pay rent until she finds work. So the biggest need was shelter. And God provided! One manager was willing to rent to her. One manager...who just became a Christian! Today she moved in! So now her biggest need is just prayer for a good job and strength to care for her three boys, one of whom is disabled. Love you and am so thankful for your prayers and encouragement!!