Dear Friends and Family,
Within the neighborhood we serve, there are four brothers who have raised themselves. They are now high school and college age and live in an apartment without a parent, guardian, or electricity. Their apartment has become a center for drug use and a hangout for neighborhood boys. The brothers have lost close friends to street violence, and they receive more attention from the police than from any other organization.
Although most people have written them off as a ‘neighborhood problem,’ these brothers have embraced every interaction with A Simple House. They have facilitated us helping their mother who suffers from drug abuse, and when we arrive unannounced, they organize their friends into a circle for prayer. Our interactions with them have been shot through with grace, and there is a crying need for more witnesses to Christ in their lives.
The four brothers’ neighborhood, which is the community A Simple House primarily serves, will probably be condemned in the next twelve months. Families are moving away, and numerous buildings in the complex have been declared public nuisances because of crime. In one particular building, fifteen out of sixteen apartments were occupied one year ago. Today, only four apartments are occupied, and one is being used by the police.
Leaking roofs have caused apartment ceilings to cave-in, and the property owners are not making the necessary repairs. In addition, the owners have not fulfilled their contractual obligations to replace carpets, repaint units, or fight mold. We believe the owners are squeezing money from government housing vouchers (Section-8) until the properties are condemned or deserted to make way for gentrified housing.
This corruption is victimizing people who do not have the resources or time to fight back. Families must catch up on bills before the government will allow them to transfer their housing vouchers, and even the families who took good care of their units do not expect to have their security deposits returned.
Your generosity has helped families with bills, security deposits, visits to new places, cleaning supplies, and food for the week of the move. Sometimes a little assistance has helped a family move into a house rather than an apartment or into a healthy neighborhood.
As a result of this exodus, we visit a spider web of people throughout the city while continuing to serve the community left behind. When the apartment complex finally closes, we will choose another neighborhood to serve close to our home. There is no shortage of ministerial opportunities in this area.
Many of the mothers we serve also want to volunteer. In response to their requests, A Simple House organized two lasagna cooking days. After volunteering for a whole day in the small Simple House kitchen making as many as eighteen lasagnas, the mothers come with us to deliver the lasagnas to other needy families, and of course, everyone leaves with a lasagna for their own family.
These days are beautiful in many ways. They allow opportunities for spiritual discussion, they feed many people, they allow the poor to be generous, and they are fun. This generous fun is significant evidence of evangelization working.
Our letter of August 2004 described the situation of Ms. Johnson and her ten children. By repairing her home, we helped Ms. Johnson transfer within the projects to a six-bedroom house. Your generosity provided the children of the family with mattresses and helped her rent a truck for the move. Over the last year, we have visited and prayed with Ms. Johnson and her family over a dozen times, and she remembered the name of every volunteer she ever met (all seven of them).
Ms. Johnson moved to her new home in January of 2005, and in May, she died. We talked with her the day of her death to schedule a home visit for the following morning. That night, she suddenly succumbed to a heart condition. Volunteers visited the home the next day and prayed with the traumatized family and friends. During this hard time, volunteers cooked for the family, bought diapers for the youngest children, took the oldest children grocery shopping, and much more. A Simple House also assisted in paying for Ms. Johnson’s funeral which was delayed for almost a month due to insufficient funds. At the funeral, it became clear that Simple House volunteers were the primary Christian witnesses in Ms. Johnson’s life. Thank you for making this work possible.
The stories of the brothers, the lasagna days, and Ms. Johnson are examples of how Christians can instigate righteousness. Jesus described our role in the Kingdom of God as leaven, salt, and flame (Luke 13:21; Matthew 5:13-16). Leaven, salt, and flame transform things, and it only takes a small amount of any of them to create a profound change. A little leaven creates most of the mass in bread. A little salt flavors an entire meal, and the flame of a candle lights an entire room. We should never be discouraged because we are small and simple. Christ wills to raise, flavor, and light the world using us as humble instruments, and for our part, we must constantly challenge and reorient ourselves to follow His call.
When we act in this way, the Kingdom grows like the mustard seed (Mark 4:26-33), and the Kingdom is filled with righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17). A Simple House is dedicated to helping Christ transform people which is the only true way to transform society. "I never think in terms of crowds in general but in terms of persons. Were I to think about crowds, I would never begin anything. It is the person that matters. I believe in person-to-person encounters." Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Fr. Adam Ryan, a monk of Conception Abbey, arrived at A Simple House on his birthday. That morning Simple House volunteers drove a new mother to the hospital. Fr. Adam’s 50th birthday corresponded to the 0th birthday of a new baby girl, and they spent quality time celebrating the occasion together. At the end of his visit, A Simple House hosted a dinner and evening of recollection. Seventeen people attended the event, and Fr. Adam’s preaching renewed their amazement at the Word of God.
In June, Jim Hardcastle joined me as a full-time volunteer in our house in southeast Washington. Jim had been managing Olsson’s Books in Old Town Alexandria and using his free time to work with the homeless. Jim’s radical gift of time and energy is a great relief and should significantly increase the number of people served by the ministry. When commitment such as his is combined with the generosity of many individual donors like you, a great work is done one person at a time.
Please pray for everyone served by A Simple House, and please say a special prayer for the children of Ms. Johnson as their life continues to be turned upside down.
Thank you, and may Christ continue to fill our cups faster than we can pour them out.
Clark Massey with board members: Laura Cartagena, Glynnis LaGarde, Kristina Massey, Michael Ortner, Richard Realbuto, and Fr. Adam Ryan OSB.