Meghan Good has served as pastor of Albany (Oregon) Mennonite Church since 2009. She is a graduate of Duke Divinity School as well as Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in “Preaching as Story” at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. In her spare time, Meghan blogs on Scripture at mudpiegod.com and works with a local shelter, providing advocacy, counseling and life-skills training for the homeless.
Some time ago, I noticed red bumps and rashes starting to appear on the forearms of guests at the local homeless shelter where I volunteer.
“It’s a reaction to the bedbugs,” one guest explained to me, scratching his swollen arms. “I’ve had to go to the doctor for an infection twice.”
A few months later, I ran into another former shelter guest on the street outside the grocery store. I asked why I hadn’t seen her in a while.
“I went back to sleeping in the woods,” she informed me. “I figured it was better to sleep cold and wet than to stay awake all night, itching.”
The shelter, which is home to at least 100 people on any given night, was doing its very best to beat the infestation. A group of guests, honorifically titled “the bug crew,” sprayed down the dorms with the recommended chemicals every other day. But it was a losing battle. The bedbugs had burrowed into the wood frames of the bunkbeds where they couldn’t be touched by the spray, emerging only at night to continue their harassment.
One day after seeing yet another infected arm, in a fit of holy outrage and crusading ambition, I asked the shelter director what it would take to replace the wooden beds with metal.
“About $14,000,” he answered.
Overwhelmed by the number, I instantly deflated and gave up. Such a sum seemed vastly out of reach.
But this past November, I happened to mention my ongoing angst during a church Sunday school class. That evening, a couple from the class sat at their dinner table, discussing the problem of the bugs and insurmountable cost over the heads of their two young sons. Their four-year-old, eavesdropping over his peas, was aghast at the news that some people did not have houses of their own to live in, and even more by the revelation that they had to sleep with bugs.
He set down his fork, slipped off his chair, and disappeared into his bedroom. Returning, he placed his whole piggy bank on the table and announced to his parents, “I have money. Here, they have this to buy new beds.” Then he returned to his supper.
His parents, stunned by the simple conviction of their four-year-old, decided it was time for adults to step up. The following Sunday, they announced to the congregation that they were setting a goal of raising the cost of the bunkbeds between Advent and Easter. For their opening fundraising bid, they threw a spaghetti dinner. Shelter guests worked in the kitchen side-by-side with church members to prepare and serve the meal. The local newspaper and radio station were intrigued and picked up the story. Checks started rolling in (as well as the slightly fuzzy contents of piggy banks).
And to everyone’s astonishment, there it suddenly was: $14,000. Raised in just over a month.
I had the (grossly undeserved) privilege of carrying the final check to the shelter office, where staff and guests were gathered to receive it. The director gazed at it in silence for a moment and then finally said in a tone of amazement, “The whole community has been talking about this problem for five years. But nobody has ever done anything about it before.”
But the words that will really stick with me came from one of the shelter guests, as I drove him back to the dorm after the spaghetti dinner that he and his girlfriend had spent the night serving beside our church members.
“You know,” he said to me, “this just might be the best night out I have had in years.”