George looked a little silly. He was riding his daughter’s bike toward the church in New York City. The bike was pink and small, and his legs were nearly up to his chest.
But George’s face was fresh and bright. “I checked myself in to a rehab and now I am back,” he told Pastor Andrew. George had earlier placed his faith in Christ and been baptized at the church, but as often happens,
all the change didn’t take place in a day.
Since George returned from rehab, he became more of a quiet leader in the church. He helped the church to “meet the need first” in a community with many needs.
How did George go from someone who simply watched the neighborhood on the street, to someone who helped many young people with the integrity of his own experience?
Much earlier, Andrew hadn’t really known George well. Andrew used to pass by as George simply shot baskets in a park. Finally Andrew just asked if they could eat lunch together. George said he was shy, but slowly he opened up as they ate.
George said one thing that surprised Andrew during the lunch.
“I saw you that day.”
Andrew didn’t know what he was talking about. “What day?” He asked.
George was serious. “The day you brought that man back to life in front of the grocery store,” he said quietly.
Andrew remembered the scene, years ago. He didn’t even know George at the time. Andrew had just learned CPR, and he saw a crowd of people in front of the grocery store.
They were all standing around a man who was unconscious. His face was blue.
Andrew felt for the breathing barrier on a lanyard he had worn since he had the CPR training. It wasn’t there. The man’s arms had holes dotted with blood. He was clearly a heroin addict. No one in the crowd moved.
“Is my life more valuable than his?” Andrew thought. Then he remembered the tent across the street that was a Harm Reduction Center for people using drugs. “Do you have a breathing barrier?” Andrew shouted. They did, and they ran it over to Andrew.
Andrew put the clear plastic over the man’s cold, blue lips and began to puff breaths of air into his lungs. Time passed, and eventually paramedics arrived. By this time, color had returned to the man’s face and the paramedics picked him up and he regained consciousness.
Andrew never saw the man again, but George had been watching in the crowd, those many years ago. We sometimes say that the two hands of Christ are “relief work,” and “release work.” Relief work is the immediate thing that needs to be done. Release work takes longer, and it involves the process of being released from dependent behaviors, from addictions, and from sin.
“I saw you that day.” Andrew didn’t know George was in the crowd until he simply had lunch with him much later. Andrew didn’t know what God would do in George’s life to bless the whole community.
One of the principles of community engagement is learning to “See the Unseen.” Sometimes we will see the connection between relief work and release work, and sometimes we won’t.