My first reaction was, I need to take a picture. I probably should have – wish I would have, now – but I just couldn’t. I was afraid to spoil to the moment. So I just stood there and watched.
I was at our Christmas Store, a “store” we organize with our partners at Crossroads Bible Church so families in the neighborhoods near Post Road and 42nd Street can buy Christmas presents for their children. The presents are donated by Outlookers and by a generous donation from one of our local ministry partners, Shepherd Community Center. For a small fee, parents can pick out toys, games, hats, gloves, underwear, socks, and an item of clothing for their kids. The parents pick gifts they know their kids will like, we wrap them, and the parents take them home and put them under the tree. They are gifts selected, purchased, and given by the parents, not donated by strangers from the suburbs.
The room was crowded – lots of tables lined close together and jammed with toys and clothes. There were lots of people milling about, people from the neighborhood shopping alongside their “personal shoppers,” volunteers from our churches who make every effort to make the parents feel comfortable and loved. But I could see the two of them clearly across the room. An Outlooker with a bright white complexion and long red hair locked in an embrace with a black mom from the neighborhood who had been shopping for her children. This was no courtesy hug. Each of them had both arms around the other and held each other tight. Then our Outlooker began to pray for the young mom, each of their heads bowed and touching each other. As with the hug, I could see even from the distance that this was a real, intense, heart felt prayer, and graciously received. It was a perfect Kodak moment – everything I dream of for this ministry. I took the snap shot in my head.
THIS is where racism begins to end. Right here, one on one, person to person. We will never be able to overcome our prejudices, suspicions, and fears until we begin to see each other first as fellow children of God, and only second as children from different races. And that was happening right in front of me. These two ladies, one black and one white, who had been total strangers not even a half hour previously, shared a real moment. A brief moment, for sure, but a moment of human kindness and compassion that broke through all racial barriers. A moment ordained by God to put just a little bit of salve on the hurts we have been inflicting on each other, especially over the past year. I don’t know what either of their views on race relations were earlier that day, but I am 100% confident each of them went to bed that night feeling a little bit more hopeful about the other’s race. I would like to think the two of them prayed for each other as they drifted off to sleep.
There were other moments like these. One of the men in our church, so worried about the burdens of one of the ladies he had shopped with that he made sure she had a Bible to take home with her. A young black mom with several children, who sat at the wrapping table for more than a half hour after her presents were wrapped, chatting away with the ladies who were wrapping presents like they were old friends. A lady from our church who admitted to me that she had been scared to serve in the neighborhood and was so excited to see our ministry first hand. A dad from the neighborhood who admitted that he had fallen away from the faith and promised to make a sincere effort to come back.
It was a good day – a VERY good day. As a result of all the hard work and generosity, 144 children from 40 different families will wake up with presents on Christmas morning they probably would not have received. And those presents will come from their parents, parents who were treated with love and dignity and bought those presents with their hard earned money. I hope that we took away a little bit of the sting of poverty for these families, at least for one Christmas. That’s a good thing and will keep me coming back for more. But those two ladies, black and white, heads bowed against each other in prayer – that is an image I will never forget, photo or not photo. THAT is why I serve. Praise God for the blessings of moments like these.