Guest Blog by Crissy Brooks
As soon as I walked in the door my neighbor handed me her eviction notice. “Can you help me?” she asked. Before I could respond she launched into a list of improvements she and her husband had done on their apartment. “How can they kick us out when we’ve done so much work?” They had put in new flooring and crown molding and painted. This all seemed secondary to me in light of losing their home and I told her so. “It doesn’t matter what you did. You’re not the owner. “
We called the Fair Housing Foundation and again the first thing she brought up was the improvements. “We did all this work,” she told the counselor. I sat in the background and whispered, “It doesn’t matter.” Apparently, that’s what the counselor told her too, along with the fact that the case was too far down the road and they would have to leave.
As we said goodbye I apologized for not being able to help. “It’s ok, we can find another place. It’s just that we did so much work on that apartment,” she mentioned one last time. It wasn’t until I recounted the story to my roommate later that I really saw what was happening. My neighbor’s face fresh in my mind, I realized that she was less concerned about knowing where to go. What she really wanted to know was that her work counted for something. And then I heard my own voice saying, “It doesn’t matter! You don’t own it.” She came to me for help and I reinforced what she already knew: your hard work does not matter if you are not the owner.
I thought of all the sermons I have heard about ownership and stewardship. We own nothing. The Lord has given us everything we have and we merely steward it. My neighbor understood this well. She stewarded her home to make it a beautiful place but in the end, the owner controls what happens. As I considered this, the question came to me: who owns the United States of America? Is it the citizens? And if so, are we as a people saying to undocumented immigrants what I said to my immigrant neighbor, “Your work doesn’t matter. You don’t own it?” What does that say about us as Christians, who believe that no one owns anything and that it all belongs to the Lord?
As one who gets paid to work in ministry I have been in several conversations debating the biblical basis of being paid to serve. Those who agree with it often quote, “the worker is worth their wages.” This phrase came to mind as I reflected on my neighbor’s situation. Shouldn’t the worker be able to enjoy the benefit of their work? Are we saying to 10 million people—“Thank you for fixing up the place, now you’re evicted; your work doesn’t count?” Is the ability to legally participate part of the worthy wage undocumented workers have earned laboring here in the US?
The distressed look on my neighbor’s face will stay with me for a long time. It seemed to plead a response, “Does what I do count?” And my response will ring convicting in my ear for a long time too, “No, it doesn’t matter.” I long to retract my statement. I long to take it back and realize what she was asking. I wish I would have told her what my faith tells me. The day after my encounter with her I happened onto Matthew 6 in The Message. Three words stuck out to me “…and you count…” Jesus is telling his followers that we count far more to God than birds. That is what I should have said. Will we who are mere stewards and not owners, speak these life-giving words to those who work and toil to our benefit?
Crissy Brooks is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Mika Community Development Corporation in Costa Mesa, California. Mika works with neighbors and church partners through neighborhood organizing and youth development, with the desire is to see their community reflect the justice and mercy of God’s Kingdom. She is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and serves on the board of the Christian Community Development Association.
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