Lesson from years ago not to be forgotten

I remember thinking when I graduated from college that I was going to change the world. I had youth, energy and ignorance on my side, then.

Those of us in the social work fields often think this until we actually get our first job in the field. This is when we usually get a good dose of reality.

My first job was that of working for the Shelby County Welfare Department. I was one of two caseworkers hired to administer the food stamp program when it first began in the state of Indiana. The year was 1974, the month was March.

My new job entailed determining whether households were eligible to receive food stamps. Not only was I to do this, but I also was to make home visits on all those who were.

State Road 9 goes through the middle of Shelby County from north to south. I was to visit all homes that were located in the area of the county that were west of State Road 9. The other caseworker was to do the same as me only she was to visit those located east of that thoroughfare.

As you can imagine, I had my hands full because this was a huge area in which to oversee. Nevertheless, this was what I was hired to do.

In the three years that I worked for the Welfare Department and did my job in food stamp certification, I visited many, many homes. Years later, now, I can remember only one of those homes and what the situation behind the visit was. I don’t believe I will ever forget.

I was 24 at the time and it made such an indelible impact on my life that I have never been the same since.

One hot summer day, I was scheduled to do home visits. It must have been at least 90 degrees by the time I left the office.

I drove around as I tried to find my destination. It took a while but I finally did. In my mind’s eye, I can still see a dilapidated duplex in front of me. This was where I was to be.

I remember noticing that as hot as it was, there was no air conditioning unit on the duplex and all the windows were closed and all blinds were pulled down.

I thought that maybe the house was abandoned but I went on ahead and knocked at the door. Actually, I knocked several times but no one answered.

I started to leave when I got an uneasy feeling like something wasn’t right. Though I didn’t know why or what, I knew that I couldn’t leave that house.

I went to the other side of the duplex and asked the person who answered the door if he had seen his neighbor recently. He said he had not for several days.

Though I could see that all the blinds on the doors and windows were pulled down, I went all the way around the duplex knocking on each door and hollering to see if there was anyone inside who could hear me. There was still no indication that anyone was there.

At this point, I still just could not leave this house. I was becoming more and more anxious as the minutes continued to pass.

Finally, in one of the windows at the front of the house, through a tiny crack, I could just barely see movement inside. There was a slight shifting of blankets on what appeared to be a couch.

I hollered and hollered to get their attention but to no avail. I tried to raise the window but it would not budge so I called the police department and paramedics and officers came running with their sirens blaring within two minutes.

I entered the house behind the emergency workers. What we all found was a female who appeared to be in her 80s under what must have been at least 6 inches of covers, lying lifeless in a room that had to have been at least 100 degrees.

As the emergency team worked with the woman, I walked around inside her home. I was not, as a 24-year-old, prepared for what I saw. I had never before seen such filth and disrepair in my life. I literally gagged as I went through two of the rooms. When I couldn’t take it any longer I went outside and didn’t go back in again.

The woman was still alive as she was rushed to the hospital.

When I left that home on that day I couldn’t go straight back to my office at the welfare department. Instead, I drove away from the area and parked my car along the side of the road and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

There were several questions on my mind. One of them was: How could anyone not have checked on this woman who apparently had been sick for days?

I do not know if she had family or any friends, but even her own next door neighbor, after not seeing her for days, didn’t give enough of a rip about her to check on her as she lay dying.

Had I not been obedient to God’s Holy Spirit that day and instead had left that house, I believe that woman would have died believing that neither God nor people loved her enough to care whether she was alive or dead.

How tragic.

What happened on that day changed me for a lifetime.

I am reminded that 1 John 3:17-18 reads: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Nita Evans of Columbus is owner of Confidential Christian Counseling, focusing her work especially with ministry leaders and their families. She also is a Columbus Police Department chaplain and a national retreat and conference speaker. She can be reached at 812-614-7838 or by visiting specialspeaker.com.