Dear Friends and Family,
Merry Christmas! Thank you for making this holiday season special for so many families.
The following story is about the struggles and victories of our friend Darrell. He is doing great this
Christmas because your support has helped him through this trying time!
Last winter, Darrell’s girlfriend kicked him out, and he slept in the hallway of the apartment
building for three months. They had been living together since 2006, but their relationship became
toxic. Darrell has legal custody of his 13-year-old son Isaac, and during this time Isaac stayed with
his mother and barely attended school. At the end of the three months, Darrell received his housing
voucher. He had been on the waiting list for 10 years! We helped him through the housing process:
scouring rental listings; calling landlords; filling out applications; even facilitating communication
between landlords and the government housing office. While waiting for the long process to be
completed, we helped Darrell wash his clothes, eat regularly, and stay motivated. For those three
months, Darrell was cold, tired, and stressed out. I repeatedly counseled him to go to a shelter. He
always replied that it was too dangerous, and his things would get stolen.
Applying for apartments was especially difficult because Darrell didn’t have bad credit, he
had no credit! He had made it to age 45 without getting on corporate America’s radar! Nobody
could vouch for his ability to pay anything. His girlfriend paid the rent and cable bill, and he got a
free phone from a city program. This is common in the neighborhoods we help. Even when men
contribute, women are usually the head of the household. Getting his own apartment was a huge
step for Darrell. It meant a whole new world of budgeting and responsibility. Darrell is working
hard to make sure Isaac stays in school and follows a different path than he did as a young man.
For the past 9 months, he has succeeded. Recently, we helped Darrell get a job as a dishwasher.
He is happy and proud in his new home.
Over the past year, Darrell and I have spent a lot of time riding around accomplishing
errands. He has told me more about his past than ever before. He enjoyed riding dirt bikes and
ATV’s through the city streets with his friends. Groups like this still ride throughout the city when
the weather is nice. As many as 85 riders gather and fill up at the gas station across the street from
Simple House. They hold up traffic while the whole gang rides through an intersection, many of
them doing wheelies. They taunt the police, and sometimes the police chase them. Some of these
bikes have been stolen, and Darrell used to enlist the help of friends and family to store and hide
them. For many years, Darrell had outstanding warrants related to riding. In 2002, he was finally
sent to jail after a routine traffic stop and convicted of automobile theft.
Darrell’s stories have a lawless, “wild west” quality to them. The neighborhood he lives in
now is no different. The week he moved into his new neighborhood he was jumped and mugged
by some young men. Darrell thinks they beat him up because he was an unfamiliar face, and they
didn’t know he lived there.
The landscape Darrell paints with these stories reminds me of the Bible. Throughout the
Old Testament, people clustered together in familial clans and tribes to support each other. These
communities were vulnerable, and attacks happened frequently. As a result, communities
constantly had to decide whether outsiders were friendly or hostile. They had to make important
moral choices while protecting themselves from real danger. A convincing case could have been
made for arming oneself to the teeth and trusting nobody. Indeed, this is a prevalent attitude in
Surprisingly, welcoming strangers into your camp was an important virtue in the ancient
world. This code of behavior required a heroic degree of courage and charity. This code stands in
contrast to the code of the street, which is kill or be killed, look out for yourself first, and take
advantage of strangers. For years, I have worked to reorient people toward a Christian code. It
requires heroism to be a Christian when your neighborhood is the wild west.
By talking with Darrell, I realized that Christianity is not a code that will help you survive
encounters with strangers. It is a relationship with the Stranger! This relationship will save us, even
though it will not always remove us from danger.
God stepped into the dangerous world of the Bible as a stranger. He visited Abraham in the
desert as three men passing by (Genesis 18:1). When Abraham welcomed him, He promised him a
son. To the world expecting a wealthy king, God comes as a homeless child. To a society seeking
retribution, He says, “love your enemies.” By His teaching and presence, God shows Himself as a
stranger in our world, even though He created it.
Jesus’ very presence is a threat to our comfortable and secure way of life. This is a good
thing! The love that He shows us and asks of us is risky. We must decide whether to let this
Stranger into our camp, our homes, and our lives. If we do, we will be blessed in ways that we do
not foresee, and recreate that blessing in the lives of others.
Our long-time friend Lucy Harris passed away before Thanksgiving. She was 81. She
lived with our missionaries in DC from 2006 to 2011. We hope to tell her story in the next letter.
Peace and blessings to you this Christmas,
The stockings were stuffed by the students with care...
For the second year running, the folks at the Catholic Student Center - Home of Catholic Terps have given us 100 stockings stuffed with goodies and hand-painted ornaments to give to our kids for Christmas! Look at all these ornaments they painted the other night! You all are some talented people! Thank you!!