Dear Friends and Family,
The new staff of the Kansas City and DC houses has been decided. Volunteers opening the KC house include: Jim, Heather, Sylvia, Kelly, Jessica, and myself. The staff of DC include: Ryan H., Ryan F., Laura, and Bianca. After the decision was made, the KC volunteers had to talk with families about the move. I will be leaving some families that I’ve known for almost five years.
This parting is especially difficult because the neighborhoods we evangelize are full of failed responsibilities and inconstancy. Parents often make promises to their children and fail to keep them, and according to the US Census, over 98% of the neighborhood families are led by single mothers. It is not unusual for a child to have only met their father once or twice. Because of these problems and the intense pain and disappointment they create, Simple House volunteers have always been careful with commitments. During training, it is constantly taught, “Always under-promise and over-deliver.”
Good friendships make leaving painful. One of my deepest friendships has been with a family who joined the Church with Laura and I as God-parents. This is the closest I’ve ever been to being a parent, and last year, I spent my mornings driving the kids to school. Being a parent is hard work! After worrying with the family, helping them, and trying to keep my promises, I had to sit down and tell them that I’m going to KC. While I told six kids and their mom that I was leaving, snot and tears made tracks down my face. I cannot remember ever being this emotional. The kids stared at me and wondered what all of this meant. During the meeting, I made some commitments to them. I would visit on certain dates, and we planned a summer road trip. May God allow Simple House and me to fulfill these commitments. May God give us more friendships like this.
In another family, they took the news with prolonged silence. The conversation went in different directions, but leaving came up every fifteen minutes. Their mother was one of the first people to welcome Simple House into the neighborhood, and she died suddenly about four years ago. She left behind a daughter 31 and a son 19. Each year, her children hold a vigil on the anniversary of her death.
The vigils are a gathering of a tough looking young men holding candles, praying, and sharing memories. This is followed by a big meal of shrimp and potato stew. The first year of the vigil, I did not understand the significance of my role. I went to pay my respects about an hour after the vigil should have started. To my horror, they had been waiting for me to lead the prayer and no one would eat until I had the first bowl of stew.
Our ministry is the closest tie this family has to church, and although they have come to mass a few times, they still consider our visits and group prayers an important part of their religious life. A few years ago, Laura and I left the event and she started laughing about the surreal situation. She and I are missionaries raised in the suburbs, and a group of inner-city men treat us as honored guests at their solemn vigil. This part of the ministry is an unplanned and unexpected gift from God.
Simple House volunteers are hoping for a big Christmas. Besides Christmas bags, presents, and Christmas dinners, there will be another interesting Christmas outreach. A few years ago, A Simple House hosted a dinner and speaker to a mixed audience of donors, volunteers, and some families. We had a long relationship with one of the families who was staying at a homeless shelter. The family excused themselves early in order to make the shelter’s curfew. Everyone found the talk edifying, but the family leaving early was downstairs and steal money, checks and credit cards from coats on the coat tree. As people left, the theft was discovered. Laura and I went to the homeless shelter, and the family had not made curfew. They were on a spending spree.
Drug addiction and greed were too much of a temptation for them. We did our best to hold the family responsible, but our relationship has never fully healed. This Christmas the family is in great need, and instead of helping them with presents, Ryan F. and Jim are going to help them in a non-traditional way. The family’s oldest son has been in prison for over three years a few hours outside the city. He has not seen anyone from his family in all that time because they are too poor to travel and visit him. Ryan F. and Jim are arranging a road trip to re-unite the family for a day before Christmas.
There are so many unknowns and moving parts related to the survival and success of this work, the only logical response is prayer. Instead of being logical, I worry and grasp for material solutions and control. Please pray for us. May God always provide as he always has. God did provide, God can provide, and God will provide.
Merry Christmas and may Christ’s Peace be with you.
Clark Massey with fulltime volunteers: Sylvia Artilles, James Beschard, Laura Cartagena, Kelly Deutsch, Ryan Fredrickson, Ryan Hehman, Jessica Hensle, Heather Jacobs, Bianca Tropeano