It is Sunday morning, and I am once again late to church but determined to go. I moved to this new town in east Texas a few months ago, and I know two people. It’s time to make some friends and find a good church.
As I make my way through the parking lot, I see a young black woman with three boys heading towards the large church door. The boys are reluctant to go, and I hear her encouraging them to keep moving. She’s black and about to walk into a church auditorium filled with a 1,000 white people.
“Have you visited here before?” I say to her. She looks quietly and says, “No.”
“Do you mind if I sit with you? I’m new, too.”
“Okay,” she quietly says.
We walk in and there is beautiful music and the church is packed. We sit in the back because that’s the only place to sit. Her boys are cleanly dressed but there are large patches on the middle boys jeans. Two of the boys immediately ask to go to the bathroom. I don’t see them for the next 30 minutes. My impulse was to check on them, but I figured they were her kids and maybe she needed a break from being a single mom. I decide not to butt in, which goes against who I am.
While the congregation is singing a song neither of us know, I start talking to the lady I just met. I already consider her to be a very brave woman. I learn she just moved from Mississippi with her children because she had a job lined up to take care of an elderly woman, but the woman passed away. She is like me, new to the area. She talks more, and I learn she is like me, she doesn’t have much money. She’s not asking me for anything, but I learn her electricity will be turned off in the next few days if she can’t put together $50. She has also applied for numerous jobs and is clearly not lazy.
The title of the sermon is “Courage under Fire”. We both listen intently. We’ve been there.
I’ve gone to numerous Baptist churches, numerous times. These days there are usually 5 – 10 beautiful, talented people on the platform of the church singing praises and alleluias.
The contrast hit me, however. The contrast of so many white people in beautiful clothes rejoicing and the young single black woman in the back of the church with 3 boys wondering if her electricity is going to be turned off. My new friend has gone to a few churches in the area, but they all tell her they don’t have any money to give.
When the service is over, I offer to take her family out for pizza but first I need to stop by my apartment and find some cash. We agree to meet at the pizza place. I finally arrive, and they are sitting in the hot baking sun waiting for me.
Tamara asks me like she’s already figured out she hasn’t made a new friend, “Are we getting this to go?”
I look at her and ask, “Do you want it to go?” Then I realize, she thought I didn’t want to sit with them and have a meal.
Her boys are very respectful and eat salad without complaining. Clearly, she is doing something right. What kid fills his plate up with salad? A hungry one.
Tamara and I visit as the boys eat their food hurriedly, then go straight to the arcades. My new friend and I have money for food but no entertainment. The boys don’t give up asking her for a quarter to play a game. I never hear them whine when the answer is no.
“I try to not let it show on my face, but I’m worried,” she tells me. “I don’t want my kids to see how worried I am.”
“Do you have access to the internet?” I ask her.
“I go to the library and use the internet so that I can apply for jobs,” she says. “My kids think I’m going to work.”
“I can’t go back to Mississippi,” she tells me. “My family has abused me,” she says quietly but clearly. There are no tears, but there is a look of resolve on her face.
“I love to cook. I can work two jobs.”
She shows me numerous photos of special meals she has prepared. The strawberries dipped in chocolate catch my eye. I can tell she is trying to find her way through life and is not going to give up. She told me that after the church service, she spoke to someone about her predicament. They agreed to pray for her. She also left her phone number with them.
Hopefully, the beautiful white people at the affluent church will do more than pray. I hope they will give. I hope they will help her find a job, so she never has to worry again about her electricity being turned off.
As we part and go our separate ways, one of her boys looks at me and says, “See you next time at church.” I hope he associates church with people who want to support his family. I hope they feel welcome if they decide to return to the predominantly white church. I hope when they’re my age, they will remember someone from church tried to help them.
I tell my family the story, and they worry that I am prey to scammers. They have no idea how much joy it brought me to help someone in need. I am out a few dollars for pizza and gas, but my tank is full.