Dear Friends and Family, Thanksgiving 2017
Natasha’s youngest son is three and wears braces on his legs. Natasha pulls his wheelchair up and down the steps of her building and pushes him to all his appointments. She takes him to daily physical therapy and administers the medications he needs for his seizures. He doesn’t talk yet, but she hopes that through therapy, he will learn to communicate better. There is no dad in the picture. She does everything on her own. Her life is not easy, but she is always laughing during our visits.
This summer, Natasha called me and told me that she was making soap. She stumbled upon recipes for homemade soap on Pinterest, and she wanted to try it herself. I was astonished that she was making soap! Nobody we know does this. Hardly anyone in her neighborhood even has a hobby. We went to her house, and she showed us piles of soap on top of her refrigerator. She emptied some of her cabinets to make space for the soap that needed to cure. She showed us different batches she had made: yogurt, cucumber, and grapefruit. She was bursting with pride as she sent us home with the soap of our choice.
Natasha has a ‘do it yourself’ spirit. In addition to soap-making, she has begun knitting and has a list of other things she wants to try. We’ve started having craft days with her. One afternoon, we taught her and her daughter to make arm-knitted scarves at our house. The next time we visited, there was a whole arm-knitted blanket across her couch! She wanted to learn to can food, and on our next craft day, I taught her and Mary-Kate to make and can strawberry jam. Natasha is a fast learner with gumption. She experiments with different soap recipes and is always thinking about what she will make next. She works hard and figures things out on her own. Recently, she started selling the soap. She packed some boxes and walked down to her daughter’s school to sell it to other moms. In the winter, she is going to help us make over 200 bars of soap to give out in Easter baskets in her neighborhood.
There is something special in Natasha. She is motivated to try new things and run with them. Many people in her neighborhood are trapped by their own low expectations. This prevents them from trying to do things on their own. Somehow, Natasha has managed to transcend this mindset. It is easier to try something for the first time if you have the support of a group trying to do the same thing. Even without support, she decided to give soap-making a shot. She isn’t afraid of messing up and starting over. Through shared interests, our friendship is growing. We want to help her bloom, and we are exploring how she can use her talents to help her family. Our friendship is a mutual blessing.
In August, a long-time friend of the ministry overdosed and died. The night before the funeral, one of the family members called me. A friend was going to print the funeral programs, but she had just backed out. They wondered if I could help. I was put in touch with Sean, one of the sons of the man who had died. He was planning most of the funeral with his siblings. He did not know how to put together a program for the funeral.
The poor hold onto funeral programs like they are prayer cards. I visit people who have a stack of them in their living room. They have them displayed and want to show them to me after they attend a funeral. I have saved programs from funerals before, but the poor save the funeral programs with a different form of reverence.
Sean was distraught that they wouldn’t have a program for the funeral. He didn’t know how he was going to tell his mother that there wouldn’t be one. It was such a simple thing, but to their family, it was a significant part of the funeral. I offered to design the program for them, and Sean was audibly relieved. I studied design in college, and I was confident I could come up with something. He sent me a picture of his dad, a poem, the schedule, and the obituary he had written. I made it into a program, dressed it up, corrected some spelling, and sent it back to him for approval. He immediately called me. They loved it.
At the funeral, he would not stop thanking me for the program. Even some family members approached me to tell me how much they liked it. I kept saying, “oh it was nothing.” But it wasn’t nothing to them. Something small and simple to me was incredibly meaningful and important to them. Somehow, the small thing I could offer was enough.
The people we serve have ways of satisfying their basic material needs. Their greatest unmet need is friendship and a relationship with Jesus. You can’t request friendship at the social services office. Friendship is about the giving of ourselves to others. For Natasha and Sean, I couldn’t offer anything huge. I could only offer them the talents and gifts I already had. We can give ourselves to others as Jesus gave Himself for us. Our love, friendship, and talents are more than we realize.
Sometimes I feel unqualified to offer help. But again and again I am reminded that Jesus chose ordinary people to do his work. He chose fishermen to evangelize the world. We don’t need to be professionals to help people. Everyone can offer friendship. Jesus works through our simple acts of friendship and love. He uses our talents in unexpected ways. I am a missionary graphic designer, a missionary knitter, and a missionary jam-maker. Jesus has given me everything I need. When he sent the disciples to evangelize, he said, “take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money...” (Luke 9:3). He challenges us to trust in Him. Can we allow Him to work through us as we are?
You are in our prayers! God bless you!
Chelsea St. Peter with: Mary-Kate Burns, Mark and Lora Eckstine, Ryan Hehman,
Clark Massey, and Margo Wernel