The leading residents of the camp call it “transitional housing.” Established on the site of an abandoned smelter, the concrete foundations of the demolished buildings are ideal for motor homes. A discard pile looms over the camp, an acre of tailings piled thirty feet high that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to remove in a couple of years. That’s going to involve heavy equipment, and many of vehicles are situated so as to interfere with the work.

The regulations for official motor home camps prohibit vehicles more than ten years old. As I walked amidst them, I say those rusted and lying low on deflated tires. I doubt that some of them can be moved, even if a place could be found to hook them up to services.

Cher, the first of the residents, parked her motor home ten years ago. At the time, the owners were still local residents, but unpaid property taxes have put the land into the hands of the EPA. Once the pile is removed – extending the salt marsh owned by the Nature Conservancy – the lot will revert to state and local ownership.

It seems an ideal site for a homeless camp. A corrugation plant sits just adjacent, and the sewage treatment plant is across the street. City officials find the inhabitants unpleasant, and of course many of them have criminal histories. They’ve found reasons to disallow garbage collection on site, and trash has piled up over the years, creating a serious public health hazard.

I’ve been going out there with the local churches, standing watch as residents are fed lunch and sift through the clothing and food. Unfortunately, the foremost of the organizers had concluded that the camp needed to be cleared. He also had some theological disputes with me, and asked me to stop attending.

But I went out two weeks ago looking for Cher. I had contacted the sociology department at the University, suggesting that her experience would be valuable to those seeking to provide alternatives for our growing homeless population. She wasn’t there that week, and I was busy with other matters last week.

Yesterday morning, my thoughts turned to her again, but I waited until after lunch to visit. When I arrived, she was standing out on the sidewalk talking with a man who had pitched his tent just outside the lot. I sat down with her, and she poured out her troubles to me.

She had gone up to meet her man when he came out of prison, but he acted as though he didn’t know her. They had planned to move into a shared living arrangement, but after his probation appointment on Monday, he disappeared. Cher contacted the office, and they said that he was fine, but wouldn’t be seeing her again.

I told her about the university contact, but it became clear that she had more pressing matters. She felt that God had abandoned the camp, and wanted to move her vehicle out to Las Vegas where her granddaughter lived. She needed to repair the lights. It seemed clear that she needed a phone, but the last time she had signed up for one, it never showed up in the mail. I offered to drive her out to find the free phone kiosk. We bounced from the 99-cent store to Wal-Mart, and were headed out to a third location when she spotted the pop-up tent outside the Goodwill.

Unfortunately, the system said that she already had a phone, and would only allow her a SIM card. Hoping either that we could buy a cheap T-Mobile device at Wal-Mart or find a spare at the camp, she accepted their offer. Wal-Mart didn’t have any T-Mobile devices, so I dropped her off, promising that I would try to find something and drop it off to her Thanksgiving morning.

During our wanderings, we talked about Revelation. She had never read the book, so I summarized it for her. Regarding her situation, what seemed important is this: love came to Adam and Eve 7000 years ago, and the selfish personalities that had dominion over the earth for the prior billions of years know that they have lost the battle. That means that they have nothing to lose, and they have set out to make the end as painful as possible. It’s upon the poor that the burden falls most heavily.

As she gathered her purse, Cher thanked me, sharing that she was in a much better place than before I came by. It was almost alarming, being told that she refused to get out of bed when her daughter reported that I wasn’t with the service crew. But she needed to eat, and found herself pulled to the curb just before I showed up.

She is shifting her hopes to me, and I know that I can’t respond. It appears that a phone will run at least $200, and who knows how much it will take to get her vehicle road-worthy. Her social security check arrives on the 3rd, but even now she’s eating noodles.

And through her I see millions more.

Last time I saw her, I told her that I just wanted her to see herself as God sees her – as a bright light shining in the darkness. She shared that she had meditated on that yesterday morning. I shared the story of Peter on the water, and she admitted that she didn’t have much faith in herself, either – time and again she had sabotaged herself.

I don’t know that she can be rescued in this life, but as I drove away, a passage from Revelation came to me. It comes in the chapters that describe the suffering brought to humanity by tyrannical government, and the loving response of the Lamb. Chapter 14 ends:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Would that have any meaning to her, this abandoned American citizen, hoping that someone from among God’s saints will provide for her? When the body is abandoned, what strength is there in a promise of salvation for the soul? I have confronted that recently, I was moved to reject spiritual compromise. But while not rich, I have physical security and comfort. She has been without for ten years. What does that do to a soul? Can she still feel God’s hand reaching down to her?

How Christ Tranforms Evil

In “Christ is Risen”, Matt Maher encapsulates the message offered by so many celebrants at Easter:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death!
Come awake! Come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, Hell, where is your victory?

It is a message of conquest.

But those that have survived a near-death experience tell us that as they drifted into the light, they saw all their loved ones reaching out to call them forward, and behind them shone the loving embrace of Christ.

Jesus did not conquer death: he entered into our greatest fear and transformed it into a conduit through which love is brought to us.

Understanding that conflict justifies evil, I have been negotiating with sin for the last fifteen years, offering the exhortation that love will not destroy it, but bring it into greatness. In that process, I have been assaulted psychologically, night and day, by people that exercise sin to gain power over others. The struggle has been exhausting.

This morning, I find myself in a different place. I turned the problem around: rather than resisting them, I envisioned the light of Christ shining through me, then through them and onto those that they oppress. The closer they press against me, the closer they come to the light, and the more brightly it shines from them.

Maher begins his song with this exhortation:

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love.

Those that rely upon sin for power run in the other direction, of course, and build their castles to wall out the light of Christ. Death is their final tool – the means by which they weed out those that insist upon loving. Every Christian that keeps his eyes upon the cross defeats that strategy: they make death the means by which Christ enters into the darkness, bypassing all the walls of the citadel.

How does Christ protect his faithful? Because even thinking about bringing harm to a true servant of Christ calls him closer. Those that would sin against the faithful must flee their ramparts into the wilderness.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus offered this counsel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
[NIV Matt. 5:38-39]

And for those strong enough, even more:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of heaven.
[NIV Matt. 5:43-45]

What I see now is: it is the miracle of the cross that guarantees the efficacy of this conduct! Death was not vanquished, it is the very tool by which we redeem one another!