Side Trip – New Orleans – June 28 to June 30 Nancy Shean
So, whats stopping you from going to New Orleans to see Jaheim? What if the Lord takes him?”
How did Tanya know that I was starting to think about traveling to New Orleans to see the little boy whose family I met on a mission trip two summers ago. The day I first met him I was with teens from Lebanon Area Evangelical Free Church and we had been canvassing a 7th ward neighborhood picking up trash and sitting on porches listening to Hurricane Katrina experiences. In 2005, according to local residents, when the levee broke an apocalyptic nightmare enveloped the neighborhood. Bodies floated down the streets, people holed up in abandoned schools, and civilization broke down to its most fundamental survival mode. Everyone had a story and most people in the neighborhood liked to have new ears for the re-telling. So on our work breaks from re-modeling a local church we listened to the recounting of Katrina survival tales and prayed with those who wanted prayer.
Having just heard such a story, we were about to return to Rock of Ages Church to get back to the painting and such, when Daniel R. spots some kids and wants to go play with them. Four or five young ones end up on the backs of four or five teens and their mom lets us take them to our work site at the church around the corner.
My daughter, Keri with Shondra’s daughter, Zondra
It becomes a daily work- break ritual to play with Jaheim, Terrance, Zondra, Maya and Crystal. If I could put words to the defiant look on their mom’s face when we came to pick them up, she’d be saying, “You can play with my kids, but don’t come near me or try to talk to me.”
On one of the last days in New Orleans it was the desire of my heart for the teens and I to share the love and gospel of Jesus with someone in our neighborhood walks. To that end we prayed for God to highlight someone. You guessed it. The children’s mom. Surprisingly, Shondra agreed to walk with us and she told us her story, which included how rejected she felt in the neighborhood churches. Shondra recounted an incident in which she was in a church and the door flew open. She came to the conclusion that she was not supposed to be there. After stepping inside Rock of Ages Church and while dialoguing about the salvation message, a breeze came by and the church door swung shut! The Holy Spirit used that as a sign in Shondra’s heart that she was supposed to receive the Lord as her Savior! Her countenance was visibly changed the next day. We exchanged numbers but didn’t have any contact for six months. One day, the following December, Shondra came to my mind and I called her. She told me that just that day she had cried out to the Lord for help as she sat in the hospital room where her 6-year-old son, Jaheim, lay critically ill with stomach cancer.
In the last year and a half, his life has see-sawed back and forth in the balance between miracles and relapses. Many prayers by many people have been lifted up on Jaheim’s behalf.
- January 2009 – intensive care- Jaheim snaps out of lethargy and and starts jumping on hospital beds. Shondra tells doctors we were praying for him. The doctor says it’s a miracle.
- June 2009 – Jaheim is not doing well again. Shondra calls and tells me there is something not right where she is living. There are weird cold breezes in parts of the house. We prayed on the phone that the blood of Jesus would protect them and told Satan and his demons to leave in Jesus’ name (ok. I’ll warn you this one’s “out there”) I happened to catch a guy on a Christian TV show who blows a shofar over people with cancer and by the grace of God many get healed. The next day I am invited to a bible study group and this guy (Don Heist) is a guest speaker! When the shofar man has ministry time, I put Jaheim on the phone to listen to it. And someone made the declaration over him. “Jaheim will live and not die. He will become a man of God, serve Him and share with others the wonderful things that God has done.” Jaheim makes his doctors laugh. He tells them, “I feel good, a man blew a horn and blew the devil out of me!”
- Dec. 2009 – Jaheim asks his mom if he’s going to make it to Christmas. Massive call to prayer goes out. He feels well enough to go for a walk and this seven year old child goes up to a 19 year-old and tells him, “God wants you to stop doing drugs.” The young man shows up on Jaheim’s doorstep the next day and tells them the boy saved his life.
- Jan. 2010 – internal bleeding – stomach surgery. A priest came in to visit and Shondra gave him some healing scripture to pray for Jaheim. The priest asked where the scripture came from and Jaheim said, “my Nanny Guard.” He asked why he calls me that and Jaheim said, “She’s my guardian angel.” After hearing that I had to send him a card and tell him he has a real guardian angel and I’m just a person.
- One time there was a couple of weeks I just forgot about him. Jaheim told his mom he wasn’t feeling good and said, “Nanny Guard” isn’t praying. That stopped me in my tracks!
That March evening, a few months ago, when Tanya mentioned visiting Jaheim, I turned to another group member sitting next to me and said, “So Julie since you pray for him all the time, why don’t you go with me!”
Julie, said, “o-kaay. Let’s do it.” Later she told me she said it quickly on purpose because if she hadn’t she might not have done it. We both ended up second guessing ourselves. Should we have agreed to this? Was it God’s will? What’s the neighborhood like where Shondra lives now? Is it safe? Just the two of us are going to navigate the city of New Orleans? We both have husbands who like to take good care of us. Neither one of us is accustomed to figuring out driving around big cities!
Jaheim turned eight years old one week before the trip. Shondra called very excited with the doctor’s report showing Jaheim 99.9% cancer free! Praise God! What a great birthday present! But then she added that he didn’t have a birthday cake, and in fact the kids hadn’t eaten in three days because her food stamps card had been stolen and she couldn’t get another one until a hearing at the end of July! We wired her some money to hold them over and said that we’d stock her shelves when we got there.
Monday June 28
Today wasn’t such a good day. I was really excited to see Jaheim. I had Julie all poised to videotape our first hello and I got only a lackluster greeting. He is a shy little boy and doesn’t really know me.
My fall from Grace.
Later, I asked Shondra what that was all about and she said,
“He didn’t believe it was you. He said if you was his nanny guard then where was your wings!”
Their fall from Grace. Besides seeing Jaheim another reason I wanted to come down was to truly assess the situation and make sure I wasn’t getting taken for a ride. There have been electric bills paid through the year and help getting into better housing and other people giving me money to help them out. Christ Community Church has a group that meets in Annville and they have helped out financially quite significantly. I needed to get a better sense of what I was dealing with and make sure it’s all on the up and up. I love seeing miracles. I love helping people. Someone shrewd could put those two pieces of information about me together and bait me pretty quickly.
Was he really sick? Was he really better? Shondra had a baby last September. She told me she named her for me. I never thought someone would name their kid after me. But did she? We had to drive to someone else’s house to see the baby and they were calling her Brittany. The thing about this baby, someone had called Child Services on Shondra in April because the baby was always crying. Part of an investigation included medical testing and some small spots of cancer were found in the baby. Could there really be two children in this family with cancer?
We had bought fresh fruits, vegetables, drinks and hot dogs to hold them over until we could get a real shopping trip in. When they opened the refrigerator to put the food away there was basically nothing in it. I mean nothing, and the freezer was empty, too. Eight people living there and no food in the fridge. We took a walk in the French Quarter and on the way home Shondra asked if we had any ketchup packages. We went in the store for ketchup and came out with two laden-filled grocery carts.
Maya, Shondra and Julie
On the drive home that night, Julie said, “I don’t think that’s her baby.” We started pointing out subtle inconsistencies spotted in the course of the day. Julie questioned Shondra’s veracity and I questioned my discernment. If I’m going to screw up and spend my own resources, that’s one thing. But, if someone else’s funds are involved that’s another thing. I went to sleep Monday night feeling disillusioned and sad. I woke up on Tuesday with two scripture verses bubbling in my mind. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. And, “I was hungry and you fed me … whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus didn’t say, “Whatever you did for the least of these honest brothers of mine you did for me.” What would I do if I had 8 people to feed and an empty refrigerator? I might be tempted to stretch the truth to play on a compassionate person’s heart, too.
Tuesday June 29
Nancy Up – Julie Down –Even though we aren’t completely sure about a few things, Julie and I keep coming back to the fact that there was no food in the house. Julie had one focus on her mind today…Take care of business. Go back to Walmart. Get meat, milk and an ice cream cake. Deliver it. Sing happy birthday. Get in and get out. She said she doesn’t want to spend much time at Shondra’s. Was she nervous about the neighborhood? I wanted to spend time there. That’s what I came for. We took care of their physical needs, now I want to do a little God talking. We leave Wal-Mart and drive into the city. Traffic is insane. I am surprisingly calm while driving. I can sense Julie’s tension mounting. I’m not sure what’s going on with her. She mentions she bought 50lbs of meat.
I said, “why so much?”
She said, “Have you ever been poor?”
“No. I haven’t. Are you Ok, Julie?”
“I’ve lived this. Been there done that. I don’t like being around it.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Yeah. Don’t stay too, long.”
Traffic is bumper to bumper. Six lanes of it. Julie asks if I’m doing okay. I say “yes, but I’m feeling the pressure of taking care of your needs and doing what I feel God is calling me to do here today. I’ll do my best to find the balance.”
When we get out of the car at Shondra’s I say “Hey Julie, I hear a baby crying.” (meaning – maybe it is her baby after all) I go inside and hear behind me Shondra scolding Julie. “What are you doing bringing more stuff. Haven’t you done enough,” she says.
Now, I’m on a mission to gather information. I see Shondra’s mom. “Hi. Miss Mary. How are you today? Is this your grandchild, too?” I ask as I pick up the baby. She nods. “She is a cute little thing. Has Jaheim been feeling better? He’s doing good, now.” I try to be inconspicuous, but I want to know some answers. Shondra is willing to show me paperwork on the baby’s cancer, but has to dig through boxes since they just moved there a few weeks ago. She says, “I don’t read or spell, Miss Nancy. I can’t read the reports but I’ll show them to you.” I tell her not to worry about it.
Pay it Forward
We all gather in one room. The baby, Ronnel -3, Terrance, 6; Jaheim, 8; and Maya, 10. Shondra has 4 other children living with her sister and two living on their own.
I ask them all why they think we came all the way down from Pennsylvania to see them. Shondra says, “because you love us.” I like that answer! I talk a little bit about how God loves his kids and wants us to take care of each other, and how God gives us so much we could never pay it back, so we need to pay it forward and give kindness to others. And I make sure they all know about Jesus. We sing happy birthday to Jaheim, and give everyone a little birthday bag with new clothes from Michelle Z. at church, and water guns and bubbles.
Julie Up – Nancy Down
I’m exhausted and ready to leave and Julie’s found her comfort zone. Shondra and Julie are exchanging conversation like old friends. Shondra says, “Miss Julie, you are the realest person I ever met.” Yesterday she told Julie she was the oddest person she ever met because she didn’t know much about the French Quarter. Julie wonders where the kids’ toys are and find they all had been thrown out due to a bug infestation at the last place they lived. Six children living there and not a single toy in the whole place.
“Well. Is there a playground nearby?” Julie wants to know.
“Two blocks away. But I won’t take them because of the shootings and I don’t trust nobody.”
Shondra is walking all her kids to get their shots tomorrow. It’s a two hour walk one way. It doesn’t occur to me until after we leave that we could have at least left bus fare for them.
We say our goodbyes because tomorrow we have to go to the airport early to drop off the rental car. I ask Jaheim if I’m still his “Nanny Guard,” even though I don’t have wings. I’m glad he says that I am. I’m also glad he realizes I’m just a person. Later in the day Julie has a flash of insight. “She moves those kids around and has other people watch them because that way they get to eat. They were back today because she had food.” Julie continues sharing her impressions. “And you can tell Shondra really appreciates you for you, not just because you do things for her. She really loves you. You’re not street smart and you can go in there and not see things, or overlook things. Nothing bothers you. You don’t care and she doesn’t feel judged.”
I’m just glad that I have settled in my heart that I’m not being “played,” that the relationship is not one that’s been motivated by manipulation on her part. There is a mutual caring and love.
Julie is so upbeat now she thinks we should come back tomorrow and film some footage to send to Extreme Makeover – Home Edition.
Wednesday June 30
We decide we need to stop back at Shondra’s to leave bus fare, and Julie isn’t satisfied yet. She thinks they need more milk. We stop at Walmart and go separate ways for a while. I call her and say, “Julie you better not be filling up that cart!”
“It’s not completely full.” She gives me a sheepish grin. She thinks they need spices, and dog food, aluminum foil…
God loves to lavish favor on his kids. One more drive into the city. There are ominous clouds ahead. One second it’s dry and the the next second I’m driving through a veil into a waterfall. I hear in my heart, “stay the course.” Favor – Julie staying calm in torrential downpour helps anxious driver not to panic. I sense God’s presence and protection. There’s a break in the clouds. We arrive at Shondra’s and I’m really happy to have another chance to see them and say goodbye again. I’m hugging on everyone and am oblivious to the fact that another deluge is imminent. Julie is waiting at the car for me to unlock it so she can start unloading and try to avoid getting wet. We get drenched unloading things in a torrential downpour. Julie tells me I have my head in the clouds. (Not the first time I’ve heard that!) We film our take for Extreme Makeover Home Edition and then Julie seems to think we need to leave right away. I don’t know why there is such a rush all of a sudden. I tell her to give me five more minutes. We soon leave. Good thing, too. We get lost driving around in the rain, and cut it close to drop the rental off, but have time to spare for our flight. We get to the airport and land an earlier flight out. (favor) We arrive in Atlanta and see on a weather map that Hurricane Alexander is affecting the gulf region by New Orleans. I’m glad we got out when we did. (favor) Now, we have a five hour layover. More favor by managing to get into the Delta lounge area without a card and pass time in an un-crowded space with comfortable chairs, free food and computers!
I keep coming back to two themes for this trip. God takes care of his kids. We miss a lot if we aren’t paying attention, and we see more and more and more if we just look for it. Also, we can’t pay God back any more than Shondra could pay us back. So, we have to pay it forward.
During the trip Julie kept saying, “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done!” When we returned home, I asked Julie what made her come on the trip, did she conclude it had been God’s will, and what did she think was its purpose?
She said, “You needed someone to go with, and I was curious. I wanted to see a miracle. I wanted to see God at work. I did see a lot of God’s provision and providence. Little things that added up to a lot. Yes. I believe this trip was God’s will. I think we had one purpose and God had another. We were going to check in on Jaheim. God sent us to feed them. He knew back in March when we got our tickets that at the end of June this family was going to need food. We got sent to feed them.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”