On his 18thbirthday, a young man found himself scouring the wooded areas of Fredericksburg for a campsite.
His relationship with his adoptive parents had never gone well, but now that he was officially an adult they no longer had legal responsibility for him. More complicated, however, was his myriad of medical issues that were about to get much worse.
Six months later, he waited patiently in a hospital emergency room. The look on the nurse’s face in review of his symptoms said a lot, but we still had another excruciating 20 minutes before the doctor would come to make it official. Finally, the curtain screeched to the side and a white coat appeared in the doorway. As a very young man, our friend was experiencing kidney failure.
Dialysis, three times a week, would begin immediately. But he had no insurance.
The treatment would make him so exhausted that getting to and from on the public bus system was impossible. Cabs were an option, but he had no income.
He had dietary restrictions, but nowhere to cook a meal and barely enough food stamps to buy a few days of the high dollar items he required. Plus, healthy eating habits were about as much of a priority as that of his other teenage peers.
Then, there was the sanitation of his outdoor living situation—not a great mix with frequent blood draws and IV infusions.
Like many Micah supports, this fellow would be housed and helped to secure income enough to pay the rent. But if there is anything we have learned about people’s needs over the years, it is that tangible and structural solutions to human problems will never be enough.
Practically, how could we expect any different? Don’t all of us need the accompaniment of others in the throws of complex medical issues? Aren’t our transitions to adulthood far more stable in the context of supportive communities?
Spiritually, it is how God relates to us and what he expects of our relationships to others. Consider the ways that original Christians offered hospitality, especially to strangers and the most marginalized. People were not sent to the local social service agency, professional or system guru in town, they were welcomed into community homes, offered food, shelter, healing and protection. Shared meals, chores and spaces brought about a relational reciprocity that left no person they encountered without something to carry with them on the next steps of their journey.
While we didn’t exactly take this young man home with us, the people God brought into his life made a big difference in creating home for him where he was.
Volunteers came out of the woodwork to offer rides until his insurance got in place to cover transportation.
Two church friends entered his life and hung out in the messiness. Like any good support system, they navigated bills, coaxed him to do his laundry and battled through the grocery store. But they also took on the more personal things. He was included in family gatherings, invited to church picnics and even earned a buddy to make difficult selections in the video game store.
Most telling to the value of these supports, however, was the moment it came time to help our friend pursue a new kidney. Getting the doctor’s approval, finding the resource responsible for the transplant list was only part of the requirement. Without a guarantee for transportation, after care and follow up support they would not put him on the list.
“Surely,” I asked of the woman in charge of the transplant list. “Surely, this is not the first person who has ever needed a kidney, but did not have support system.”
Certainly not, she explained. But those who could not meet the requirement usually stayed on dialysis the rest of their lives or died.
Not interested in a death sentence for our young friend, the community that had built up around him began to strategize. Rides could be arranged. Care could be provided. People would be there, for whatever it took to get this fellow to the next phase of life.
It would be nearly three years later that the plan would be called into action. A kidney came available in Richmond, and he was sitting in the hospital awaiting the transplant before the rest of those who had prepared to assist even knew it was happening.
On a Saturday evening, our friend went under the knife. By Sunday, coincidentally an Easter morning, he arose with freedom from dialysis and new hope for his journey forward.
While past experiences had challenged this young man’s faith and compromised his trust in support systems, he was not deprived in this moment of an encounter with the risen Christ. He saw it in the man who channeled the kidney transplant experience of his own grandchild, and cared for him as if he were his own. He saw it in the friend who helped with laundry, the grocery shopping and many other small tasks that his physical condition would never have allowed. And he continues to see Jesus in so many others who have stepped up to love him through the trips to Richmond, post-operative care and ultimate realization that he finally has a normal chance at life.
In Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl describes what has happened in our abandonment of this kind of hospitality. Professionals and service systems may have made society more efficient in its “caregiving” or effective in social response, she says. But it has taken us away from the connectivity that makes healing possible.
Christ’s call to hospitality is a “fundamental expression of the Gospel” story. If we believe in it, Pohl says, our lives and our communities, not just the structures we can afford to set up, will become and remain an equal, if not greater response.