“You are a priest, so you have to give me a place to stay.”
Those were the first words out of the woman’s mouth when I answered the door one evening just before dark and found her standing on our front step. We had only been at my first parish for a year to two. Even in the rolling rural hills of eastern Connecticut, a variety of people quickly found out that we lived in the parsonage next door to the church. So we got the usual procession of people looking for food or gas money, but till now never a demand for housing.
Inge introduced herself with a thick Swedish accent. She hadn’t been in America very long, found herself abused and estranged from her husband, and had nowhere to go. I think at some point we actually met her husband, but there wasn’t going to be any reconciliation. She was also Lutheran, actually a pastor of some sort herself. We were a combination of naive, compassionate, and new at this, and we had a huge house full of rooms we weren’t using, so we took her in. Our family was small, just my wife and I and our infant son — and now a boarder.
She didn’t bring much with her. Inge had little money, just a few items of clothing and personal items in a small suitcase. Her habits were a little different than ours. She liked eating bread slathered with mayonnaise and tomato sauce. On many a pasta night we found ourselves with no sauce. She also like to make sweet rolls with lots and lots and lots of butter. I seem to remember that she showered and shaved only occasionally, taking more of a continental approach to hygiene.
Inge found a job at some kind of small manufacturing company in our town, one she could walk to. She did attend worship and bible class when she didn’t have to work. She used some of her income to buy things like a VHS player, which she wanted to take back to Sweden with her. Since she was “buying American” for the moment, we saw a glaring flaw in her plan. She wasn’t actually saving anymoney to go back home.
After a few months, we decided we would help her out. She didn’t have a bank account, so we cashed her paychecks for her, withholding some and saving up for a flight back to Sweden. Within a month, we had enough for the trip. I purchased a ticket, drove her to La Guardia, and dropped her off. I don’t think we ever heard from her again.
I have helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways over the years. This was the only time we actually took someone in. It’s been a memory-stretcher to recall this story. I wasn’t journaling my life then as I do now. I definitely remember it being a less fearful and more innocent time, before the Persian Gulf conflicts, 9/11, Internet, wifi, and smart phones.
I’m not sure we would do this again. Were we foolish or faithful? Hard to say. Following Christ seems to be a mixture of both sometimes.