The missions committee at the small rural church where I worship recently came up with the idea of serving Christ one Ziploc bag at a time.
As is the case in many rural communities, a fair number of our church members commute to larger cities like Durham to work. As we near our workplaces, we often encounter homeless men and women at stoplights, where they sell newspapers or ask for some assistance. Typically we might roll down the window, give them a few dollars, and wish them a “God bless you, friend.” Our conscience may be salved for a few moments, but in the end we are left knowing that such small acts kindness are just tiny drops in a pretty big bucket.
Our missions committee is helping us to make those drops at least a little bit bigger. It recently asked the congregation to bring in items from a list of toiletries and snacks: simple things like hand sanitizer, toothpaste, deodorant, goldfish, tuna, granola bars, etc. Having collected these personal comfort items, we sorted and placed them (along with a few dollars) in large plastic Ziploc freezer bags. Each Sunday, a stack of these gift bags is placed in the back pew, and people are encouraged to take one and to have it in their car in case they meet someone in need. Now, when I encounter someone at the stoplight who is requesting assistance, I’m grateful to be able to give them something more thoughtful than a few bucks – and the people I’ve met seem genuinely appreciative that some of these motorists, at least, have thought about them before their chance 15 second meeting.
I am aware that these Ziploc bags are a tiny, tiny gesture. We should probably be leaving early for work and then stopping to treat these men and women to breakfast, where we can hear their stories, befriend them, and come to think of them as more than “the homeless.” We should be volunteering more than we are at the urban ministry center and homeless shelter. We need to beware that these bags don’t simply become a way of making us feel better, more than they are about helping people in need.
And yet there is something beautiful in thinking of a group of Christians who are willing to prepare, in advance, to meet Jesus in “the least of these”: and to be sure they have something thoughtful and kind to give to him when that encounter happens.
In Matthew 25, Jesus never says, “I was homeless and you gave me a Ziploc gift bag” – but I think he might smile at the gesture nonetheless.