I'd lost track of Courtney, the hero of my Katrina story, for awhile. It wasn't the first time. People without cell phones or permanent addresses can be difficult to find. "Streets" was pretty good about checking in with me, but this time it had been about six months – and I was worried.
My head was filled with images of all the things that can go wrong for people living on the margins of society – people who don't know where they'll find food, people who move from one apartment to another as they're kicked out again and again for not being able to pay rent. Courtney had worked so hard for so long to stay out of trouble. I could only hope he was okay.
And then I got a text on December 25. "Merry Christmas." A number I didn't know. "Merry Christmas to you, but who is this?" I texted back. "Courtney Miles," came the reply. I was so relieved!
I called him immediately and was thrilled to learn he's safe and still in school. He'll finish junior college this spring and is still on track for a basketball scholarship to a four-year university next fall. He said he'd tried to call me a couple of times. (My phone service is terrible lately, and many long conversations with AT&T have not improved the situation. )
The good news is that Courtney's safe and in school. The bad news, he told me - he's being evicted from his apartment next week because he's behind on the rent.
I promised to try to find a way to help, but hung up feeling frustrated that there wasn't much I could do. I've sent him grocery money many times, but the cost of an apartment in California was beyond my means. If I lived near his school, I'd gladly take him in, but we're thousands of miles away. So I did the only think I know how to do. I wrote.
I wrote a letter and emailed it to the pastors of ten churches in Oakland and Alameda, asking for help for Courtney, telling them about his life and his accomplishments, what a great guy he is and asking for help in finding a place for him to live.
And the responses came – complete strangers with arms wide open offering to help someone they'd never met. A man named Stephen Jones of Central Baptist Church is demonstrating what "ministering" is all about by working to place Courtney with a family from his congregation. He and his son have driven to Courtney's apartment with groceries, called his landlord to negotiate a few more days, and looked into helping him replace the birth certificate he lost in Hurricane Katrina – all within 24 hours of receiving my letter. What an amazing "hands-on" approach to God's command to love one another!
So many people talk about their faith; Stephen Jones is living it.
I'm so grateful. And so optimistic about the difference a support network like this can make in Courtney's life. What a wonderful Christmas gift - to Courtney and to me! Courtney's story is only just beginning.