I Saw Jesus

A letter from Food Pantry board member, Bob Haisman, to First United Church of Oak Park's staff. 

I have been a member of First United for over 30 years.  I'm no theological expert.  I'm not an 'emotional' Christian.  In fact, given the right-wing's kidnapping of Evangelistic Christianity... I almost wince when I label myself a Christian.  I guess I have remained a member at First United for 30 years because it’s brand of “Rational”, reasoned Christianity has appealed to me. I was raised in a working class Catholic family where miracles and even a kind of ‘spiritual magic’ was accepted as a matter of fact. Come to think of it maybe that was the appeal of First United to me – I was able to escape all that talk of miracles and saints and stuff. 

I start there to give you some context of why this next sentance is so hard for me to say. 

Saturday Morning Jesus was in the basement of First United during the Food Pantry's distribution. 

I think I saw him... I know I felt him.  In my 72 some years I never, ever thought I would ever say that to anyone.  

I’m a longtime volunteer at Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry.  Some weeks in the past, I would help with two “food disbursements” at the Pantry and then go pick-up a load of food at Greater Chicago Food Depository! In the last six years my volunteering has been as a Food Pantry Board Member and fundraiser. Saturday I volunteered again in the Food Pantry the whole morning. 

I arrived before the Pantry opened early Saturday morning, walking pass a line of folks waiting in the rain to receive food. (It still amazzzes me – in America – a line of people -- waiting in the rain at our church basement door -- to get a few bags of food for their kids!??)

The Pantry's volunteers and staff were getting ready for the onslaught that was Saturday food disbursement.  They were all moving fast trying to get ready so they could open the doors early and let the rain drenched people into warm, dry centennial hall – to get them out of the rain. There were 80 volunteers staffing the Food Pantry Saturday morning – 80 Volunteers! There were young, smiling, friendly “nutritionist in training” from Dominican University to welcome people and talk about healthy eating and to share how to prepare the food the Pantry was handing out. There were nurses from Rush Oak Park Hospital – doing free, voluntary screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes. There was Ricardo, Pantry Manager, friendly, flexible, reassuring giving directions on where and how for clients to get food. There was gauntlet of volunteers with lap tops (and smiles and calm words) to check clients in – according to US Department of Agricultural standards – perish the thought someone might get food -- more than once a month! There were a contingent of Volunteers handing out a variety of free bread (donated from Costco) to families as they waited for “their number to be called”. When their number was called – they could move forward into the small, cramped Food Pantry and pick from a cornucopia of can goods, frozen meats, dairy and even--miracles or miracles--fresh fruits and vegetables.  I’m not sure many folks realize the behind the scenes army of volunteers that makes that “cornucopia” possible! What an amazing place …..in the basement of First United.

The clients of the pantry were cold and damp from the rain but seemed to warm up fast in the glow of the Pantry…. seniors and disabled folks … elderly grizzled veterans and young single Moms with two children, and Grandmothers tending to four small children ....pausing at the rack of clean, neat, almost-new free winter coats offered up with a smiling face by a First United Volunteer ….

I think it was near that rack of children’s winter coats that I saw Jesus –  I felt his presence as the Pantry volunteers cut threw government red tape to get a family some food to supplement ever shrinking food stamp allotments … I knew he was around when teenage volunteers carried bags of food for a disabled seniors up First United’s basement steps and offered to carry the bags -- in the rain -- all the way to the bus stop (and help them on the bus)!!

Sometimes it seems with all the issues before our church, with the tensions and stresses and unholy controversies that "Jesus has left the building." I’m here to tell you – this rational, reasoned Christian -- that nothing could be further from the truth – Jesus visits us at least twice a week – look for him, feel his presence as a child’s eyes light-up as they try on a like-new winter coat,  as Grandma clutches her bags of food - in the food pantry. 

My Mother was right -- miracles do happen all the time – just stop by any Saturday morning in First United’s Basement…..( maybe you’ll even see Jesus…).