Confessions of a Scared White Woman

 

 All we knew to take with us into this hell-hole of an apartment complex was love.  I hoped it was enough.  

I always thought that by this time in my life, I’d be like Ruth Bell Graham, sitting in my mountain home at my breakfast nook, looking out over the hills that I loved as I drank a cup of tea and wrote inspirational notes to those who needed a sweet word of encouragement.  Instead, I’m standing in my downstairs apartment on the intracoastal waterway looking at a winter’s thunderstorm come in from the southwest, bringing its watery grey sheets of rain across the narrow pier, scattering the shells left earlier by hungry gulls.  I always wondered how the shells piled up and then mysteriously disappeared overnight.

I have no sweet notes to write to anyone today, (or most days, for that matter.)  These days I remember a lot from ministry experiences and the years we raised our children.   I’m thinking that these stories are part of their heritage, to be told to our grandchildren and shared by our friends.  I’d like to think that if I write them down, they can encourage or entertain, at the least.  Here’s one from 1995.

“We came from Bethlehem, Georgia bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”
― Barbara KingsolverThe Poisonwood Bible 

We’d been asked to come and minister at an apartment complex in Orlando, Florida:  George Town Apartments.  It was in the Pine Hill’s area and was nicked named, “Crime Hills.”  We couldn’t wait to get started.  So ready to make a difference in the world, we were fearless and had no idea what to expect.  Ever read “The Poison Wood Bible?”

We decided to have our first meeting on a Wednesday night.  Rita, the apartment manager, had taken a two bedroom apartment and turned it into a clubhouse.  Chairs were set out in the living room and Bill’s keyboard was in the corner.  With great music combined with a message designed to touch the heart of  this troubled mini-world we had found ourselves suddenly assigned to, plus light refreshments,  we were ready to take up our challenge.   Let the good times begin and let our light so shine before men!

About thirty minutes before the meeting began,  those of  us who came early decided to go and knock on some of the resident’s doors to ask them to come.  I didn’t go.  The children were all with me at the clubhouse.  Bill put on his best preacher’s smile and went to the first apartment door, knocking loudly.  A lady with a checker-board smile greeted him and asked him into her house.  He stood at the door, introducing himself and telling her about the new services that would begin that night.  He wondered if she would like to come and try them out.

Very graciously, she declined, saying, “Well, You see….My sista’s just got stabbed!  I don’t think I can make it this week!  The amb’lance is here and they’re gettin’ her ready to take her to the hospital.”  And sure enough, two EMC’s passed by Bill, carrying a lady out on a stretcher.  The ambulance was out in the parking lot.

Apologizing, Bill backed out of their way.  He was so freaked out he didn’t offer to pray for her or offer any words of comfort to the sister.  “I understand…maybe next time,” he muttered, and  moved on a little more cautiously to the next apartment to see if anyone was home.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, some of the residents had started to trickle into the room.  There was a man there who seemed to be nervous and sweating profusely…either he had not had his medications that day or he had taken them all and then some!  There were a few dear old “mommas,”  who had for a few years been afraid to come out of their apartments .  They entered the room with  wide eyed curiosity, wondering if their prayers for thetumblr_lwbl09AKsK1qf84ybo1_1280 neighborhood were finally being answered.  A church, right down the sidewalk from their doorway!  A few young momma’s were sitting happily in the seats, seemingly unaware that their children were running around the room, glad to play  in a new environment.  Of course, we didn’t mind babysitting.  We took care of the children and promised them snacks for later if they behaved themselves during the meeting.  The mothers were just relieved to have someone other than themselves show some interest in their rambunctious children.

I can’t seem to recall the others who came.  I believe there was a gay man named, Richard.  It was explained to me that he had at one time been a big time night club owner (of the drag queen singing and dancing variety)  and had experienced a radical conversion over to Christianity.  He had even been interviewed on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.  I didn’t ask questions but it seemed that he felt he had taken a fall from Grace, again, and didn’t feel worthy of God’s love.  He was mentally disabled, beaten down  and lived quietly at George Town Apartments.  He only wanted to “feel” Jesus like he used to.  I wanted that for him too!  It seemed so important for him.  He would talk and cry, remembering when he used to “be” someone.  If nothing else, he was loved by us.  Sometimes he would cook for us, Cajun food and luscious cakes…He later moved to South Carolina near the beach and lived in a trailer.  It’s funny the particular things one can remember.

The room was almost filled up and Bill was back in time to start our meeting.  Allen and Betsy Quain, our partners in ministry were there with their four children.  Between us, we had ten children!  That was enough alone to start a church!  Oh, wait a minute….We had already done that!

Bill started to play the keyboard.  We had set up a sound system loud enough to blow the roof off the building!  Rita wanted us to open the doors and set the speakers outside so that the residents could hear the music and the gospel as it was preached.

I  have to admit…Bill, Allen, Betsy and I could sing!  We sang as if we were singing  before thousands of people in a stadium that night!  People started opening the doors to their apartments, letting the music seep into their hearts and souls.  Black folk, white folk, people from the Islands….it didn’t matter.  A peace seemed to descend down from heaven over our city block.  The Kingdom of God was near and the people could touch it.

A few policemen came in as we started our meeting.  One stood by the front door and the other by the open sliding glass door.  I thought it was sweet and later mentioned it to Bill, “Can you believe that even the police came into the meeting?”  You could imagine my surprise when Bill answered back, “Oh, Donna…Rita told me she asked them to come.  She wanted them watching both doors because the word was out that we were there and we were messing up drug deals that were going down…Even messing up some prostitution rings… The prostitutes couldn’t come out on the sidewalk…You know…They were there to protect us from getting shot.”

You know, right then would have been a good time for me to put my foot down; to say,  as a mother, “Bill, we can’t take our family into this hell hole!  It’s dangerous!  Someone could get hurt.”  But I didn’t.  Because I knew deep down inside of my spirit, there was a calmness that couldn’t be explained.  I had felt God’s spirit of peace descend upon us as we sang, as we held those beautiful children in our arms as their mommas worshipped God.  As we did the only thing we knew to do: love them.  Love was already in the air.  It had come in on the gentle breeze, through the windows and doors, on the music notes in the quiet summer night.  It had entered my heart, causing me to want to serve these lovely, lonely,  people.  The adventure was calling me….I couldn’t help but say, “I’m glad the police were there, then.  I may be afraid but I can’t wait until next week.”

I had fun choosing this song to go with this post.  I’m sure the writers intended it to be for two people in love.  I’d like to think this one was meant for me and the people of George Town Apartments.  It always helps to fall in love with the group of people God calls you to serve!

HERE’S YOUR SONG!  ENJOY!

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Aside

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Judy Bethune
    Mar 03, 2014 @ 21:41:32

    I love it. You were bringing “The Kingdom of God” to that place where God called you. People just want to know that they are important & that others, especially their heavenly Father care about them where they are. They needed hope & you, Bill & your friends brought it.

    Reply

    • themuseinme
      Mar 04, 2014 @ 03:11:59

      Judy, Bill and I always that that if the Kingdom of God came down close enough for people to be able to touch it, they would be believe in it…love it. That happened to us and so we wanted to be carriers of it. Get close enough and they will feel it, touch it! It works! Bring heaven down to earth and see what happens!

      Reply

  2. judy bentley
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 16:37:15

    Donna , I so remember those days!! It was a good work touching many lives, Thank you guy’s for being obedient and laying down your wills for his!! Love you and have always appreciated you Bill and the Quains.

    Reply

    • themuseinme
      Mar 04, 2014 @ 16:51:10

      Those were the days, Judy, when we were young and strong and not afraid to march into the unknown! You, Henry and your kids were so much a part of that life for us. We still remember and the memories are fond. Still love you guys and love seeing how you all “turned out!” LOL Your family is beautiful and I know you are proud of them all!

      Reply

  3. L. E. Barnes
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 02:22:07

    I had not heard this story before. I remember visiting you all in 1995 when you were living in the apartment complex in Orlando. Bill and another fellow were trying to start a church there in the complex. Was that the same period when the events you talk about in your post occurred?

    Well, praise God that you were able to shine some light in that dark pit of sin. Hopefully some folks were blessed by your outreach.

    So when is Bill going to start another church? 😉

    Evan

    Reply

  4. Patsy Luther
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 17:16:38

    Donna,
    I loved reading this! 🙂 I remember the doors opened and the music spread throughout the complex. You guys could definitely sing!!!! What fun to see how God used you all and the joy you all showed! You were his hands, feet, voice and showed his love to all of those around you. You took that old apartment and turned it into a beautiful home with your talent. I was amazed. Those residents had so much spiritual warfare being fought for them. I think the crime rate and the drugs diminished while you all were there. And I wonder why Kyle has that same heart? It started there….well done!! Love you!

    Reply

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