Based in south Louisiana, Release & Gather is a blog by Holly Rabalais.  Her posts explore people, community, and matters of the heart.  Everyone has a unique journey.  Welcome to a window into hers.

Builders of the Wall

Taking a break from my morning work, I checked Facebook and saw the most joyful, contagious smile I'd encountered in some time.  Sam, the post said, had just gotten the updated driver's license he needed to begin working at the full-time job he'd secured.  The LOT Project, a ministry serving the homeless in downtown Baton Rouge, had met Sam the previous day at their worship service.  He needed some help sorting out the required paperwork, so they had met him at the DMV the next morning.  The post went on to note that Sam was currently living under a bridge but after two paychecks he'd be able to get a studio apartment straight down the bus line from work.

The rest of the morning my mind circled back to Sam and pictured him trying to get a driver's license and a job without a proper address.  How had he done it?  Nevermind that, how could he be so joyful knowing he had to live on the street for at least four more weeks?  I had never met the man, but I knew one thing:  I did not want him to sleep under a bridge one more night.

I messaged my friend Erin, who founded the LOT ministry with her husband Billy, to see if she knew how to get in touch with Sam.  They only knew his place of employment, a high-end club where business people rubbed elbows and negotiated deals over lunch.  Not wanting to interrupt his tasks with a phone call, I decided to take a late lunch and go by.  I eased into the parking lot behind the ornate building and spotted a man taking a smoke break.  When he affirmed that he worked at the establishment, I asked if he knew a man named Sam--someone who'd just started that week.  While he went inside to check, and I jotted my name and number down on a scrap of paper.

A few minutes later, the man reappeared with a second fellow wearing a black uniform, white kitchen apron, blue latex gloves, and quizzical expression.  "Sam?" I asked.

"Yes ma'am."

"My friends, Billy and Erin, told me about you.  I think they helped you get a driver's license earlier this week?"

His face lit up with that million-dollar smile as he nodded that he was indeed the same "Sam".

"They said you believed in two paychecks you'd be able to get into an apartment.  Well, my heart is burdened for you, Sam, and I want you to find out how much you will need for a deposit, utilities, and first month's rent on that apartment.  I'm not rich, but I'm believing that God is going to provide a way for us to get you into that apartment before the week is up."

Sam's eyes watered, and he finally said, "Well, I haven't started looking for a specific place yet, but I can try to go after I get off work today and start looking.  I just don't know what to say; this has just made my day!"

"Sam, you have secured a job for yourself, and you have such joy in you--I just want to give you a hand up.  Here's my name and number, and I want you to call me with a dollar amount and property name.  I am by no means a rich woman, but I know God can open doors."

"You know, every day I wake up and just tell myself that I just gotta keep going.  Most people never know what I'm going through because I just put a smile on my face and keep going.  And I wonder if God hears my prayers--can I hug you?"

"Of course!" I hugged him and looked into his hopeful eyes. "You know, I can't say I've been homeless, but I've had some struggles.  One thing I can tell you is that God does hear our prayers.  Every one of them.  He may not answer them as quickly as we'd like, but He is listening.  If you don't believe that, then why am I standing here?"

He laughed and asked if he could hug me again.  I left him to get back to work after he promised he'd call me with the information for the apartment.

That evening, I opened my Bible to chapter three in Nehemiah:  Builders of the Wall.  I'd run across a scripture reference in Nehemiah the day before and realized I'd never spent much time studying the book, so I set out to read and understand it.  I'd already read how Nehemiah, an Israelite and cupbearer to the king, was greatly grieved on learning the distressed state of the Jews and the city of Jerusalem.  After praying to God and waiting some months, Nehemiah petitioned the king, who granted him a commission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.  Once there, Nehemiah assessed the ruined state of the wall, determined what was needed to rebuild it, and invited the rulers and people to come together with him to rebuild the wall.  This was no one-man project!

I read through the chapter and noted all these weird names of people who repaired various gates (which also had strange names such a Sheep Gate, Fish Gate, and Dung Gate) and sections of the wall.  What most impressed me was that people from all walks of life came together to rebuild this wall--priests, goldsmiths, perfume makers, district rulers, countrymen, temple servants, merchants.  Men and women helped repair sections, and chapter four went on to say, "...for the people worked with all their heart."  Matthew Henry said of the cooperative effort, "United force will conquer that which no individual dares venture on.  Many hands will make light work."

The next couple of days I continued reading Nehemiah, and on Saturday I reached the completion of the wall in chapter six: "So the wall was completed...in fifty-two days.  When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."

52 days in the midst of all kind of opposition.  That was surely a God thing!

That same afternoon at 2:00, Sam finally called.  He was about to meet the manager of an apartment building and said he found out that he would need $400 for a deposit and $450 for his first month's rent.  My mind exploded as questions filled my head, but I told Sam if the place was suitable to fill out the application and call me with the contact information of the manager so I could arrange to get a check to him.  I hung up and sat for a few seconds wondering what I should do next.  Should I just write the check?  Should I call some people to see if anyone would help?  What if this didn't sound...well...legit?

Then I remembered the Builders of the Wall.  I knew God had led me to this place and I was sure He wanted to use multiple people to make this happen, so at 2:12 p.m. I shared the LOT Project's original post and invited friends to join me in getting Sam into this apartment.  I knew without a doubt that He wanted me to just go write the check and trust that He would show up.

The manager called me, and I asked how soon Sam could get a key if I got a check to him that day.  He responded they could have it ready in the next couple of days.  I quickly grabbed my purse and started the half-hour drive into Baton Rouge.

While en route, one friend messaged that he would meet me there with a $200 check.  Another friend messaged that he was sending me $30 via electronic transfer.  And at 3:04 I was on the phone with a man who said he had been asking God to show him who he was to give $500 to.  He asked me to stop by that evening to pick it up.  Another $50 came in later, and Mike and I had already planned to be part of the giving.

52 minutes from the time I petitioned my friends on Facebook, God had provided funding for Sam's home using people from all walks of life.  Men, women, married, single, divorced, widowed, retired--these were the builders of the wall.  This work had surely been done with the help of our God.

As I wrote the check I related to Sam and the apartment manager the story of several people who came together to give Sam a hand up; the story of how God works in mighty ways when we trust Him and back up that trust with obedience. 

The manager handed Sam the receipt for his deposit and rent as well as the key to his apartment, and Sam gave me the tour.  To me the apartment looked bleak, dirty, and old, but to him it was a castle.

Since Sam had missed his Saturday meal at a local shelter, we stopped for a burger before driving over to retrieve some items he had under the bridge.  He directed me into a parking lot and pointed.  "That's my little nest over there.  Won't take me but a minute to get my few things."

"You be sure to tell that little nest 'bye', Sam.  Tell it thank you for being a good little nest, but you don't need it anymore and you won't be back."

He laughed then hurried over.  The wind picked up and something flapped in this place he had called home.  In just a couple of minutes he was back with a plastic zippered bag that held a pillow and some toiletries.  "Sam, what else is over there?  Did you have a tarp?"

"Yeah.  I had a couple of tarps and a piece of styrofoam that I was using to sleep on."

My heart hurt to think of all the nights Sam spent sleeping under a bridge on a piece of styrofoam.  Upon seeing that Sam's new place was unfurnished, my friend who had met me at the apartment went home to retrieve a twin bed, pillows, a blanket, and a microwave.  As we got closer to the apartment, Sam said, "This is like a dream.  I wasn't expecting to sign papers and get a key to an apartment today.  I just can't believe that tonight I'll have a door to lock and a bed to sleep in!  God has answered my prayers."

"Well, this morning I didn't expect that today I'd be looking at you holding the key to your new apartment, either.  I guess that just goes to show you that we can't put God in a box.  His ways are bigger than we could ever dream if we will just release the things He tells us to let go of so we can gather the things He has in store for us."

52 minutes.  This work has surely been done with the help of our God.

Note:  To learn how you can be a builder of walls or if you would like to donate household items for Sam's new apartment, email thelotprojectministry@gmail.com.

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