PASTOR COLUMN - We live in a community that takes care of its friends

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Among the many reasons I am proud to call Walla Walla home is that ours is a community that cares deeply for the less fortunate.

My previous home was in a town a tiny bit smaller than Walla Walla. There, the only resources available were from the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Here, on the other hand, we have the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Help Line, the Christian Aid Center, the YWCA and YMCA, the Children's Home Society, the Blue Mountain Action Council, Campfire, the Pantry Shelf, Catholic Charities, Friends of Children, the soup kitchens of three churches, Vineyard Free Methodist, Pioneer Methodist, and St. Paul's Episcopal; and many more charities than I can possibly name here. Most help people directly; others work behind the scenes exploring ways to build up our community or looking for those who are falling through the cracks.

There are certainly ways we could do better. We need more low-income housing and a place to house homeless teens. In nearly every way, however, Walla Walla does a spectacular job of caring for those in need.

I offer my thanks and blessings to the many who make the work of each of these organizations possible. I give thanks to donors, of course, but even more to the directors, the employees, and the hundreds in our community who volunteer their time and talents.

Their work can be thankless. They live in the midst of much suffering, and their toils will never be ended in this world. They carry burdens that few of us could lift.

And for all that, those who care for the poor are also much to be envied. They see Christ, face-to-face, every day.

The rabbis teach us that, as we go about our lives, a troop of angels in front of each one of us proclaims, "Make way for the image of the Most High!"

I have heard them. I am privileged to lead a Bible study with some of the men at the Christian Aid Center. I went, at first, because I was asked to help out. Now, I look forward to my turn with the group.

As I have taught them, learned from them, prayed with them and kidded with them, I have discovered things about the world and myself and God that I would never otherwise have known.

I have learned there is no such thing as "the homeless" or "the less fortunate" or "the poor" or "the hungry." There are only Dean, and Ken, and Steve, and Greg (Sorry guys, I can't name you all. There's a word limit, and you won't hold still long enough for me to learn them all anyway.) They aren't "the homeless." They are my friends. They are images of God. They have names and stories and hopes and dreams. They have different backgrounds, and struggles and languages. Some are a little rough around the edges. Many I would trust with my wallet or my life.

The same is true of every person who seeks food at the Pantry Shelf or shelter at the YWCA. They are Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They are our friends and our neighbors, and each one is an image of God. They aren't "them," they are us.

Together we care for all who need it, but it is good to be reminded once in a while that we are one people. I am proud to call Walla Walla home. Ours is a community that cares deeply for our friends.

The Rev. Birch Rambo is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Contact him at 509-529-1083.

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