Moving from words to witness in our relationship with God.
Jesus in the First United Basement
Bob Haisman, First United Member
November 21, 2017

 From Deborah Kapp:
This week I have permission from Bob Haisman to share an email he sent to me recently. Bob describes himself as someone who is not an “emotional” Christian, but rather one who leans more toward the rational, reasoned end of the Christian spectrum. So, he reports being surprised when he encountered Jesus in the basement of First United a few weeks ago. I am grateful to be able to share his story with you, because it made Matthew 25 come alive for me:

I think I saw him. I know I felt him. In my 72-some years I never, ever thought I would ever say that to anyone…

I’m a longtime volunteer at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry. In the past, I helped with two food distributions at the pantry and then picked up a load of food at the GCFD (Greater Chicago Food Depository)! In the last six years, my volunteering has been as a Food Pantry Board Member and fundraiser. Recently, I volunteered again in the Food Pantry for a whole morning.

I arrived before opening of the pantry, early Saturday morning, walking past a line of folks waiting in the rain for the opening of the pantry. (It still amazes me – in America –to see people waiting in line to get a few bags of food for their kids!)

The pantry volunteers were getting ready for the onslaught of Saturday food distribution. They were moving fast, trying to get ready so they could open the doors early and let the rain-drenched people into warm, dry Centennial Hall. There were 80 volunteers! There were young, smiling, friendly nutritionists-in-training from Dominican University, who welcomed people and taught about healthy eating. There were nurses from Rush Oak Park Hospital doing free, voluntary screening for high BP and diabetes. There was Pantry Manager—Ricardo—friendly, flexible and reassuring, giving directions to clients. There was a gauntlet of volunteers with laptops and smiles and calm words to check clients in according to U.S. Department of Agricultural standards—perish the thought someone might get food more than once a month! There were a contingent of Volunteers just handing out a variety of free bread (donated from Costco) to families as they waited for “their number to be called”. When their number was called, they could move forward into the small, cramped food pantry and pick from a cornucopia of canned goods, frozen meats, dairy, and even—miracles or miracles—fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not sure many folks realize the behind the scenes army of volunteers that makes that cornucopia possible! What an amazing place…in the basement of First United.

The clients of the pantry were cold and damp from the rain, but they seemed to warm up fast in the glow of the pantry—seniors and disabled folks, elderly grizzled veterans, young single moms with children and a grandmother tending to four small children. Several paused at the rack of clean, neat, almost-new free winter coats offered up by a First United Volunteer with a smiling face.

I think it was near that rack of children’s winter coats that I saw Jesus. I felt his presence as the pantry volunteers cut through government red tape to get a family some food to supplement ever-shrinking food stamp allotments. I knew he was around when teenage volunteers carried bags of food for a disabled senior up First United’s basement steps and offered to carry the bags, through the rain, all the way to the bus stop (and help them on the bus)!!

Sometimes it seems with all the issues before our church, with the tensions and stresses and unholy controversies, that Jesus has left the building. I’m here to tell you—this rational, reasoned Christian—that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus visits us at least once a week. Look for him; feel his presence as a child’s eyes light up as she tries on a like-new winter coat, or as Grandma clutches her bags of food—in the food pantry.