Dear Friends and Family of Trinity,

   Several years ago it was my privilege (I use the word carelessly!) to help escort 52 United Methodist high school students to a week of Biblically based seminars in Washington, D.C, and New York.  Most of the students came from small, or very small communities in SD, many lived on ranches; only four had ever been on a plane before and most of them had never been out of the state of South Dakota!  I knew as an adult leader, I was in for an adventure.

  One of the students on the trip, a young woman named Tracey, was from one of the three churches I was serving at that time.  She was very excited about going to New York, “the Big Apple”, to see the glittering lights of Broadway, and to be part of the excitement that was to be found in “the city that never sleeps”  Her idea of New York was based completely on all of the glamour and glitz she had seen in movies.  That was NOT what the seminar was about!

  Tracey was not happy when she discovered she would have to share her comfortable but not fancy hotel room with one roommate.  She was even more unhappy when we moved to the YMCA, where she had to share a room with three other roommates and several cockroaches.  She found the city dirty, and at that time, it was. Garbage was piled head-high on the streets and often what appeared to be bags of garbage blocking the sidewalks were homeless people sleeping on the subway grates in an attempt to stay warm.  She nearly threw up the first time she saw people eating out of garbage cans.  She couldn’t wait to get home.  “I just feel dirty” she kept saying.

  It was required that all of the youth who went on the trip had to give reports to their home churches about their experiences and what they had learned.  I wanted Tracey to be truthful, and yet I was really worried about what she was going to say!  She started to tell about the garbage, the street people, and how dirty she felt…and then she stopped, and she said, “I came home and I went into Brookings, and there coming down the street was an old man in a ragged coat, shuffling along in shoes that didn’t fit. He obviously hadn’t had a bath or a shave for a long time, and he was carrying what was probably all his worldly belongings in a back pack, which was heavy enough to make him slump and slouch as he walked along, and I said to myself, “O my God (I am quoting Tracey here), they have followed me home!’

  And then Tracey stopped, sobbed, and with tears running down her cheeks, she added, “And then I said, no he didn’t follow me home; he has been here all the time. I just didn’t see him”.

  I knew in that moment that Tracey’s life and outlook had indeed been changed on that trip.  “He has been here all the time, I just didn’t see him”.

  I wonder how true that might be for many of us as well.  Do we really see the hurt and pain, the fear and loneliness, the hunger and the financial stress right here, close to home.  Do we really know the terror that might be residing in the house right next to us?  Do we know how many people cry buckets of tears waiting for children to call or someone to just stop by to say “Hi” and for a few moments banish the loneliness?  Do we hear the sobs of those who have lost loved ones, and still miss them, while our lives have returned to normal?

  And even if we do see and if we do hear, what do we do about it?  The Psalmist reminded us of our responsibility “to defend the weak and fatherless and to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” but before we can do that---we have to see them!  --

Pastor Penny Ritter


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