When our Catholic Teen Club (CTC) arrived at a home site in Big Chimney, WV, for a diocesan mission/service camp, “Barbara”, the sweet, mid-50s “lady of the house” with smiling eyes, warmly greeted us.
However, after we unloaded our tools and materials to start our “home improvement” projects, “Buster”, the man of the house, herded all of us out into the yard to give us a stern “talkin’ to”. If you’ve ever seen Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, you can picture Buster. This large, full-bearded, rather intimidating mountain man was NOT pleased that we were there to help.
He irritably explained that the last time a group came to “help”, all they did was take pictures of his house, put them in the Charleston newspaper with a caption, “The Hodge-Podge House”, and never returned to do any work to help his family being threatened with eviction. Unless improvements were made by the end of June, they would lose their home. The “Hodge-Podge” label was due to the panels of chipboard, plywood and other scraps that served as exterior siding and as interior walls.
Today’s first reading from Amos warns: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needyand destroy the poor of the land…Never will I forget a thing they have done!” Buster never forgot that his pride had been trampled. We needed to gain his trust, but how? By allowing the Lord to use us as loving servants to help “lift the needy”, as it says in today’s Psalm 113.
God put Jesus, the Christ, in our midst to be our example to imitate and to follow. We are given the Gift of Jesus, Who is the perfect image of a compassionate servant, a servant even unto death for all of us.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who admonished his wasteful steward saying, “Prepare a full account of your stewardship. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” What answer would we offer to account for our stewardship of our gifts, talents and service to the needy?
Not only did we convince Buster that we would fulfill our promise to help, but that we respected him and the work he had already started, but was unable to finish, due to his declining health. Missing linoleum pieces, missing kitchen cabinet doors, broken canning shelves and partially laid hardwood flooring were replaced with new vinyl floors, interior drywall, new shelves and completed hardwood floors. Good news: Buster & Barbara were not evicted.
Although the diocesan project lasted five days, our CTC group grew “attached” to Buster and Barbara. Our smaller CTC team returned to their home on several occasions that summer to deliver parish-donated furniture, birthday & anniversary gifts (including a photo album filled with memories of this colorful couple), along with before-and-after pictures of their home. Our final journey was to install new vinyl siding over the “hodge-podge” panels.
End of Summer High Point: Barbara told us that she loved Camden Park, Huntington’s amusement park, but had only been there twice. She was trying to win free tickets to go with her children and 14 grandchildren. Rather than win the contest, Camden Park’s owner authorized 19 free tickets that were presented by our teens in a gift bag to Buster and Barbara. After a 90-minute drive from Big Chimney in two pickup trucks loaded with all 19 of Buster’s clan, CTC celebrated the all-day fun with them. Touching words came from Buster as we were leaving when he wrapped me a big bear-hug saying, “I don’t think of you all as just friends, I think of you as FAMILY!” 1 Peter 4:8-10 “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Our youth group learned Catholic Social Justice by “doing” – by putting faith into action. May we continue to reflect Christ’s INTENSE love to others!