Jul 18, 2011

Though, it was four years ago, shortly after I moved into the neighborhood, I can still remember it very clearly today.  “Ayumame, Chawn-yell-ya!” Veronica shouted, “Ayumame!” (Spanish translation – “Ayudame, Daniela, Ayudame!”; English translation – “Help me, Dawnielle, Help me!”) She struggled up the stairs with all of her determination and might as she wrestled with her tricycle, trying to drag it up the six stairs leading into the apartment stairwell. My upstairs apartment neighbor, a strong-willed 3-year-old little girl, with her mind on the goal, was calling for my help. When she began the process, the feat seemed very easy to achieve but half way up the steps, the obstacle ahead had become insurmountable. “Ayumame, Chawn-yell-ya, Ayumame” she cried again with increasing desperation. I smirked a bit at how very cute she was and I left the conversation I was having under the tree with another neighbor to come to her rescue. As I jogged over, her eyes focused on me and in a very sweet way they said to me, “Help me please!  I can’t hold it much longer.” I swooped in with my “big person” frame and with great ease picked up the small, light tricycle and carried it up the stairs, past the heavy door and up a second flight of twice as many stairs. When I arrived at the top, I turned back to watch her tired, exasperated body climbing the stairs behind me as she looked up at me with a thankful glance.

The first few weeks of summer program this July have been a challenge to say the least. At times it feels like I am just trouble-shooting one problem after another. Promised transportation falls through the cracks, not able to provide all the resources my staff and volunteers need to achieve success, unable to give clear direction that everyone understands, a pivotal volunteer calls in sick and can’t make it at the last minute, a long waiting list of students, a need that far outweighs the resources and the list goes on. In urban ministry, creativity and flexibility are the name of the game; however, all of those problems spiral into an abyss of confusion and chaos making me feel like I am an insufficient leader and in times of doubt, cause me to wonder if God has abandoned us and left us to our own devices. Deep in my heart, I know that isn’t true. I know the promise that He will never leave or forsake us. I know that the work isn’t ours, it is the Lord’s. Most of all, I know that He cares for the people of this neighborhood more than I could ever imagine.

However, as I was reflecting on a long, hard, frustrating day last week, the story of little Veronica (now a 2nd grade student in Kids Club) came to mind. Lately, I have felt like that little girl trying to drag her tricycle up those stairs. When I started, it didn’t seem like a task that would be too difficult to complete but after trying, recognized that I certainly wasn’t going to make it to the top of the stairs without some help from someone bigger than me. In my feeble efforts, my lips try to formulate the words necessary to cry out for help for the many glaring needs. “Lord, we need a bus or a van!” “Lord, send more volunteers!” “Lord, we need artists to teach!” “Lord, I need rest!” “Lord, send more money!” “Lord, teach me to forgive!” “Lord, convict me when my heart is judgmental.” “Lord, help me to be patient.” “Lord, help me to show love even when it is hard.” I sit there wondering if God heard it. I wonder if others will respond when He prompts them to help.

Learning from the illustration of Veronica, I had this sense that these challenges were trivial, at best. Just like the moment I swooped in to save my neighbor, there might be others out there who have been given the gifts to swoop in to bless Casa Chirilagua where the needs are the greatest. Moreover, what is even more comforting is that the God of the universe who is the owner of the cattle on a thousand hillsides, hears those feeble cries and is ready and willing to respond.

We are a community of people “learning together to love our neighbors as ourselves” in a Latino neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia.

As a faith-based Christian non-profit with a small staff and over 100 volunteers, we serve alongside more than 100 families and their children (1st-12th grades) each week through our community programs.

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Our relational network of volunteers and donors reflects a diverse group of individuals from all over the Washington, D.C. metro area. As a non-profit, we rely on the community for assisting program directors on-site, being mentors, supplying the needs of our food pantry, and everything in between. Each member of our Casa community holds a unique gift, whether time, talent or treasure.