We asked Rachel Zuch, a TEAM worker in Austria, to share about some of the greatest challenges in ministering to the marginalized members of our communities. This column appears in the spring 2014 issue of Horizons magazine, which hits mailboxes this week and next.
By Rachel Zuch
This morning, a young man is sitting across the kitchen table from me, sipping his coffee and talking about his dreams and fears. We’ll call him Sam. The first time I saw Sam was four years ago on the street. He was dressed like a woman, selling his body.
Born into a Gypsy family in Romania, Sam had never gone to school before he met my husband and me. Soon after that, he made a commitment to Christ. But his life has still been a struggle.
Sam needed a place to live and enough to eat. He couldn’t read or write, had no access to the job market, and is HIV positive. He never had a mom and dad to love him and teach him the basics. Instead, he was passed from one relative to the next, forced to work for them. He was sexually abused as a teenager. He learned to survive by living on his own on the streets.
Now, four years after our first encounter, Sam is on the brink of a brand new start. In a few days, he will have a room in a men’s home and his first real job at a fast food restaurant. But for about 10 days until that happens, he’s staying at our place because, well, he needs stability and prayer right now to face these new challenges.
When ministering to the marginalized, there is perhaps no greater test than our willingness to open our homes to “risky” guests. There is no simple rule that tells us when this is wise and when it’s not. So in each case, we worry about the unforeseen hazards and wrestle with the unseen selfishness and fear in our own hearts.
For the past three years, before he moved in with us, Sam had been living with an elderly woman he calls “Grandma.” She is the hero in this story and an amazing example. She opened her tiny apartment to him and has treated him like a grandson. She didn’t have a room available for him, so he slept on a mattress in her living room. Before her health forced her to move into a nursing facility, she showed Sam something he’d never known before: family.
It reminded me of the widow in the New Testament who gave her last coins. This sweet elderly woman gave all that she had to give — she gave herself. Ultimately, I believe that’s why it is so difficult to open our homes to difficult people. Our own privacy is often the last thing we’re willing to give up.
There is suffering all around us. How do we decide whom to help, when there are so many? Do we open our homes to everyone? These questions, ultimately, are between each of us and God, and are usually decided on a case-by-case basis. But there is a larger question that we can wrestle with right now: Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone and share my space, my time, and my resources with someone in need? Are they really mine to begin with?
We so often err on the side of caution rather than compassion, out of a fear of being “used.” But Christ never promised we would never get walked on. For those of us in positions to help — and that is most of us reading these words — we must ask ourselves what exactly Christ meant when he said in Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Have we not all been freely given so much more than we deserve?
Rachel Zuch is founder and chairperson of a ministry that reaches out to people in prostitution and victims of sex trafficking. She and her husband, Dan, serve as TEAM missionaries in Austria.