But God. Throughout the Bible there are passages that describe difficult situations that are redeemed with these two words.
Noah spent years building the ark and months floating in it during the flood, “but God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). For decades, Reuben and the rest of Jacob’s sons mistreated Joseph, “but God used it for good… for the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). The psalmist cries out that every person will die, “but God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol and receive me” (Psalm 49:15). And the ultimate redemption—the Jews crucified Jesus, “but God raised him on the third day” (Acts 10:40).
Struggles and difficulties have never stopped God. Rather, tough circumstances often form a weighty frame that magnificently emphasizes his power and grace.
No one understands this better than those who have little and live on the streets in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana. Every day is a hunt for basics—a place to sleep, enough to eat, clean and dry clothes, and a new measure of hope.
When COVID-19 invaded the U.S., it had no favorites. Old and young, healthy and weak, rich and poor—all have felt its effects. In a matter of days, ones with nothing had even less. Soup kitchens closed. Park facilities were locked. Restaurants shut lobbies and served curbside. March in Indiana is cold, and every warming opportunity, restroom and shower facility and community gathering place was off limits. How does one shelter-in-place without shelter or a place?
No one living under a bridge or behind a garage from Trinity Church / Garfield Park has come down with the virus. The generosity of Trinity Church people doubled the resources for providing additional meals. Without the ability to meet inside our church building, volunteers prayed with each person individually, and meaningful relationships that went both ways grew deep in Christ.
As the pastor of these dear ones, my heart agonized in prayer the last three months—far more than it did pre-COVID-19. Our regular routine of eating a home-cooked meal before worshiping together in our church basement on Thursday nights wasn’t possible, but God gave wisdom and ideas to continue ministry through the worst days of isolation and limitations we had not experienced before.
To minimize contagion, we moved ministry outside and kept gatherings small by adopting a come-and-go format. Instead of a home-cooked meal, we served bagged pizza and muffins. We continued to greet each person with a smile that said, “I see you, and you matter,” and as each one moved through the line for food, toiletries, new socks and prayer, God gave us the gift of unhurried time with one another.
Because many people from the suburban congregations of Trinity were not working, they had more opportunity to be involved. “Thank you for allowing us to serve. We really feel blessed to be able to [provide fresh fruit]. Everyone deserves food that brings joy,” a new volunteer shared by email. In a season with severe limitations, the volunteer team grew and donations increased.
Something wondrous happened as socially-distanced hearts connected over pizza and free socks. As we read Scripture and prayed over people, some prayed over us. Each week, we all came to church hungry, and we all left full.
Yet, we missed worshiping together. “When are you going to open back up?” Dante* asked with tears in his eyes after a volunteer prayed for him. “’Cause I miss being together. And hearing the Word and worshiping God. I’m just so lonesome.”
In late June, we transitioned from prayer and pizza to a short worship experience on the church lawn. We committed to continue fostering the growing relationships. The meal team created a tasty picnic. People participated in a devotional sitting on towels placed six feet apart. And when 45 voices that had been silent for months sang out God’s praises together into the clear evening sky, the evening sun outlined every cloud in silver.
*Name has been changed.
Rev. Catherine Howie has served at Trinity Church / Garfield Park as the campus pastor since 2012.