God’s Beloved People—
The story of how the 5,000 people (not counting women and children) sat down and ate their fill is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Maybe because we all know what it is like to face a hungry crowd with five loaves and two fish. Whole nations starving for food: everything we have would not help, Lord. We are too small. Send them away. Do not ask us. And he said to them, How many loaves do you have? Bring them to me.
Six weeks ago all we knew for sure were questions. Could we do workcamp in La Crescent? Would the 40 teenagers still come? Would the adults still give a week of their time? How to find the projects? Equipment? COVID logistics could cancel us… would there be a workcamp feel?
That Monday cold rain drenched our workers as they dug and scraped and prepped and slogged around in a mudhole that would become a playground… hopefully. This first local work camp was not off to an auspicious start. We went out Monday not like conquering heros but a rag tag, plastic wrapped, faithful - with a bunch of paint brushes and assorted other tools, most of us with only a vague notion of what was needed of us.
We went, in other words, with something less than five loaves and two fishes.
Just a crowd of sleepy, skinny, confused-looking kids, who almost didn’t come.
The rain, combined with the cold, dampened spirits and productivity. What had we gotten ourselves in to? At least that was what some were thinking according to the journals they kept. Five crummy loaves and two dried up fish. Port-a-potties, borrowed sun shades, lawn chairs and a bags of snacks against homes in real need of repair.
At the end of the Day One people were feeling a little discouraged, no new kids to befriend, no media shows in the evening, no music, no dancing, no overnights that bonded new friendship, no 9-square and there was that no cell phone tradition. Just five crummy loaves and two dried up little fishes.
Then halfway through the week a funny thing began to happen. The sun came out. La Crescent-ites who had been watching from the sidelines began to pitch in. Dropping off cookies, driving by and honking encouragement, donated lunches, donated rental tools, neighbors started commenting, waving and giving the thumbs up sign. Five crummy loaves and two little dried up fishes. TV stations caught wind, momentum was building… Five loaves and two kind of okay fishes.
At the end of the week all the projects were completed. Despite the cold, the heat, the humidity and rain — moreover — $4,000 had been pumped into our local economy as well as 2400 work hours of social capital. Fences, steps, ramps repaired, even one piece of chain saw art carved from a stump of a tree. The resident cried when she saw it with its bird feeder and potted plant and said she loved us and would never forget us. Poems were written in gratitude - love and smiles and thanks were shared all around.
Do I need to say it more directly? We went into the week skinny, with five loaves and two fishes, but we came out fat with twelve baskets to spare. Listen to what workcampers wrote:
I got to know people on a deeper level,
I became less judgmental,
the gratitude of our residents and their neighbors gave me more gratitude for my life.
I think I’ve become more humble.
Not because we did anything right or because we had enough to give, but because God made good on God’s promise to match our gifts, such as they were, with God’s own. Cathy Beardmore wrote – it was the best week of her YM here at PoP. It is something to remember when the crowd looks too big, the odds too poor, the work too hard, the situation too hopeless. It is something to remember when our own resources look too meager, our efforts too puny, our spirits too low.
Go look at your loaves. How many do you have? Any answer will do. Now follow the leader. Take what you have — whatever you have — take it into your hands and hold it lightly, very lightly. Then bless it — thank God for what you have and make it holy by giving it away for love. Then break it — sorry, you have to tear it up to share it, there is no way to keep it all in one nice piece. And finally give it — to whoever is standing in front of you or beside you — spread it around, and never mind that there does not seem to be enough for everyone. It is not up to you to feed the whole crowd, to solve the whole problem, or fix the whole world. It is up to you just to share what you have got, to feed whatever big or little hunger that happens to be standing right in front of you. The rest will come. Because God is God, the rest will come.