One Christmas Eve back in the mid-90’s I headed out to Kensington Avenue with my good friend, Shirley. She had called me a few days earlier to invite me on a very special mission. So, I said yes, as I was always ready for a bit of intrigue.
Packed in her trunk were about twenty gift bags filled with toiletries like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. Shirley had prepared each bag with loving care and a silent, yet thoughtful, prayer went up as every one was completely filled.
Kensington Avenue is located in one of the ugliest areas of North Philadelphia known as the “Badlands”. I used to live and work just five minutes from the strip. After dark, and after most of the shops along this street (covered by the Elevated Train track overhead) were closed, out of the shadows crept the prostitutes who were ready to begin their workday. Dressed in dingy, skimpy clothing, with tired and vacant eyes and slouching shoulders, each girl began her silent sales pitch.
As we began our journey down this dimly lit avenue, bundled up and tucked safely in Shirley’s car, I could recall the words she spoke to me over the phone. It went something like this: “These girls just need to be touched with God’s love. Who else is going to do it? We’re His hands, Summer. I just want to make sure they know that God knows who and where they are, and that He loves them.” How could I resist?
One by one, as we inched along the street, we gave the bags away with a few words of hope. I wish I could say that they all responded with immense gratitude and that many decided to walk away from their lifestyle. But, no miracle happened that night. None that I could see anyway.
But, the memory of that evening is branded in my mind. And I thank Shirley for the invitation.
In 2002, I helped start a ministry to prostitutes along the railroad tracks in Zone One of Guatemala City. I’m no longer with that ministry, but my husband and I have maintained a relationship with one of the ex-hookers I’d met there. Her name is Sheny, and she’s HIV positive. She’s got three kids and we help them throughout the year with food, clothes, school supplies, etc. Sheny’s got a job, but only earns the equivalent of $200 a month, which barely provides for the rent, food and medication she needs to keep from dying too soon.
She’s got quite the story, Sheny does. Her life history makes mine seem like a fairy tail – and I didn’t have it easy.
I’m not tooting my own horn or patting myself on the back by sharing this with you. The truth is, it’s a sacrifice for me to give of my money, time and energy. Oftentimes, I’d rather stay inside my cozy home and enjoy being with my husband and son. But, I’m always haunted by the fact that there are millions of people hurting in this world.
So I give.
I wish I could give more. I wish I could do more.
We have gifts nicely wrapped under the tree for Sheny and her kids this year. Nothing fancy, really. Just blankets and some toiletries. But, we’re happy to give, because we know that through giving God’s love is communicated.
Shirely’s still living in Philly, giving of herself constantly.
How will you spend your Christmas? Will you give to someone in need? Who do you know that’s hurting?
It’s a challenge.
Don’t do it to make yourself feel good or to ease your conscience. Give because you know someone needs it. Open up your heart and life and pour out kindness and gentleness and mercy.
Don’t think you have anything to give? Everyone has something.
Our budget was extremely tight this year, what with the newborn baby and all. But, It’s worth it to love someone else, no matter what the cost. So we’ll be in debt for a couple of months. So what.
(Originally written December, 2007)