Restorers of Streets to Live In

Note: I shared this piece in Patchwork’s newsletter and many have said they enjoyed it, so I thought I’d share it in this format as well. The full Winter 2014 newsletter is available on our website: www.Patchwork.org. The artwork below was created by Arts & Smarts participants. –Amy

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If you remove the yoke of oppression, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:9-12

Whenever Patchwork’s doors are open, people come in.

They may be young or old; living in poverty or living on comfortable incomes; white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American; men or women; gay or straight; disabled; mentally ill; veterans; alone or part of large families.

It is our goal to treat every one of them with respect, no matter who they are.

Many come in for our Neighborhood Hospitality—for a cup of coffee and a donut; for a place to charge their cell phones; for a loaf of bread and some fresh produce; for clothing and other items from our free area; for some dog or cat food for their pets; to use our phone or fax machine; to rest in our library; to try to figure out where to go for help with their rent or utilities; to take a shower; or simply to have someone to talk to.

Last year, we logged approximately 5500 instances of this kind of hospitality. This number includes 592 showers for individuals who, for various reasons, had no other access to shower facilities.

I am often in and out of Patchwork’s main office when our guests are talking to Dee and Shawn, our Office Assistants. Dee and Shawn also share stories with me from their experiences in the office. Through these stories, I am very aware that we are living in a broken world full of injustice.

We see good people working so hard to stay ahead of their monthly bills—water, electric, medicine, food, rent, mortgage payments—only to have a setback—a temporary layoff, an illness, a significant home repair, car trouble—arise and drag them down. We see wonderful people who care about others and who share a laugh with us in the main office but who can’t break their addictions. They disappear for a few months, then reappear, telling us they’ve gotten themselves cleaned up again. We see people who are stressed by their living situations and who are trying to make good decisions, but whose stress clouds their decision making. We see people who have done terrible, inexcusable things in the past, but are here now asking for help.

My job at Patchwork is rewarding—I feel like I’m doing something meaningful and worthwhile. I don’t lack the resources to live the way I want: simply yet comfortably. As I travel through our city, I am generally greeted with respect. I do not live a life severely limited by injustice or oppression.

I want that for all of our guests. I believe that God wants that for them, as well, and that Jesus, in the way that he relates to the poor, the outcasts, and the ostracized, provides us with real life examples of how to bring them justice.

As I speak with our guests, I imagine what justice might look like in their lives: what would bring about the wholeness and completeness that I believe God would want for them. I imagine jobs for those who are able to work that would pay their living expenses and allow them to stop feeling the stress of being one small problem away from losing everything. I imagine flexible employers able to incorporate unusual souls into their workforce. I imagine alternative opportunities for those unable to work that would provide them with a way to feel they are making meaningful and worthwhile contributions to society. I imagine safe and affordable housing for everyone. I imagine healing for addicts, for those who are mentally ill, for those whose past is scarred by abuse. I imagine resources to help people get past the mistakes they’ve made.

How can Patchwork even begin to bring justice to these situations? We don’t provide financial assistance or jobs or counseling or housing or health care.

But, we are a witness to the injustice. I believe that is no small thing.

We are a place of acceptance and support. We are a place where people come together to try to learn from and understand each other. We are a place that runs on faith that there is a better way.

We are not alone. We are part of a much larger community of congregations and organizations and individuals who are working together to fight injustice.

I believe Patchwork embodies the words of Isaiah 58, and as part of a community working to remove the yoke of oppression, we can become the restorer of streets to live in.

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2 Responses to Restorers of Streets to Live In

  1. Thank you for a thoughtful, moving essay that shines a light both on the complexity of what Patchwork strives to achieve and on the challenge of seeing and connecting with the pain, frustration, and sadness of very real people whose lives make up the abstract statistics of social justice issues Thank you for the scripture, too. It is new to me, but it is now going to the top of my list of favorites.

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