When Sr. Benedito and I arrived that first night at Dona Cleuza’s house, the unpaved streets were muddy from rain, and the drizzle settled on our heads as the lady of the house delayed to open the front gate. This particular section of the popular housing project did not appear friendly, so we were glad to get inside. The exterior was dark and crude, but clean; a satellite dish attached high on a wall spoke of someone’s interest in television.
Inside, unfinished walls and bare concrete floors darkened the house, but the living room and kitchen, separated by a curtain, were not untidy. All furniture faced the shelving that held the large TV set.
The family welcomed us warmly. Sr. Benedito and I sat on the couch, fighting against the nightly news to hear the conversation. A drip on my shoulder caused me to brush away remaining moisture from my hair. Another drip on the same spot made my suspicious. Shortly, still another denounced a leak in the roof. I try to move unconspicuously toward Sr. Benedito and away from the wet spot.
As chairs begin to group in the living room for the Bible study to follow, I suggest the kitchen table so we may better place our Bibles. And get away from the leak.
Seated around the table, I get a few words out and — drip — discover another leak down my back. No way to move without calling attention to myself, but the lady of the house counsels me away from the intrusive water. Off we go with the study, and I ignore another drip falling across the table.
Not only does the family’s house leak, but the family as well.
The oldest son has robbed them repeatedly to feed his drug habit. He is separated from his wife and two children, having lost his job after his transvesite brother with AIDS stabbed him in the stomach with a kitchen knife. He had picked one fight too many. The daughter is a single mother still at home. Mom is medicated for half a dozen health problems. After a few weeks of studies every Thursday night, night-watchman Dad has his second stroke, this one paralyzing his left side and throwing the whole family into panic.
If that isn’t enough, a close friend of the family pulls me aside after the first week pleading for help on a debt to a bandido who has threatened his life if he doesn’t pay up.
After our first couple of studies, I remarked to Sr. Benedito that this family really needs the gospel. Their values are askew, they spend on frivolties rather than necessities, conflict rules the roost. They seem eager for our visits, but are they eager for the truth? Some weeks they seem to flee from our studies; other times, tension crackles in the air. No easy-going studies, these, with disruptions and delays, people coming and going.
At first thought, it’s easy to think that a family like this, with so many problems, conflicts, and sins, needs salvation. But that thought slides easily into another, that they need the gospel more than others. More than I do.
We know better, really. Nobody is better off than anybody else. No matter how respectable you are, how nice your neighborhood, how Ivy League your school, how old your family tree, how impressive your job credentials.
Does God like me better because my walls are painted, my streets are paved, my kids are squeaky clean, or my roof doesn’t leak?
Not a chance.
Sure, Dona Cleuza and her family really need the gospel. But, then again, so do I.