A Friend, A Neighbor, An Advocate

Luke 5:17   One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.  18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;  19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.  20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
John 5:2   Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Two men were similarly afflicted. One man had friends and other did not. The acquaintances of the first man wanted to get help for their paralyzed friend but the crowd surrounding Jesus prevented easy access. At this moment, the friends became active advocates. They had to figure out a way to overcome the obstacles that prevented their friend from receiving much needed help. With tenacity, they “went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus” (Luke 5:19).  Good friends.

In another story, we see a man who has been ill for 38 years. When he encounters Jesus, who asks, “Do you want to be made well?” he responds, “Sir, I have no one…” (John 5:3-7). This man required someone to assist him in getting help. Even though he tried for years to secure his own healing, he could not get past the hindrances in the way.  He needed a friend, someone to advocate on his behalf.

Elizabeth Kagay, Community Development Manager for the Hopewell Project

Elizabeth Kagay, Community Development Manager for the Hopewell Project

Last week I interviewed Liz Kagay about the work she is involved in with our Hopewell Widow Project.  Liz is someone who helps widows and the elderly obtain services and benefits that they desperately need.  In a very real sense, she is the friend who advocates on behalf those in need.

With a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Social Work, Liz Kagay has worked for several years with homeless families and troubled youth. However, it wasn’t until she took a Widow Care class at the Institute of G.O.D. did she begin to see the need to put her education and experience toward ministering to widows, an often neglected group, even in the U.S.  As Liz visited with widows in our neighborhood of Hopewell, she noticed needs that could be met by matching volunteers from our organization with particular tasks. She helped match capable volunteers with tasks like plumbing, yard maintenance, checking vital signs, picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, in addition to spending time listening to and praying with our elderly neighbors. As helpful as meeting those needs are, there was still more that needed to be done. In order to ensure that government agencies, insurance companies, and medical providers did what they promised--what they were supposed to do—they needed an advocate. Liz became it.

All G.O.D. participants are involved in community service in the Hopewell neighborhood, which happens both naturally as neighbors, and through weekly facilitated neighborhood improvement projects. 

One of our neighbors sits in a wheelchair by her front door and looks out longingly. “I see Leroy riding in his chair up and down this street. I know that he goes all around the neighborhood by himself,” Mrs. Palmer says. “I wish I had one of those chairs so I can go outside, too.”  Two years later, after much advocating, Mrs. Palmer, now 85 years of age, received a new motorized chair.

Projects range from lawn care and home maintenance to cooking a healthy meal, or simply spending time together. 

Liz recounts, “It took over a year of me calling her doctor, hospital, insurance carrier, physical therapy center, and wheelchair provider before the motorized chair was actually delivered to her. I’ve taken her to several appointments over that time to obtain the necessary paperwork, get fitted for chair, and talk to everyone involved to let them know her need. Finally, when it all seemed to be on track for the chair to be delivered, Mrs. Palmer was told that there was still more to do. We had to start the process over again. I did everything to comply with the new requirements and we were told her chair would arrive in 3 months, which is not a short period of time for someone who is 85 years old.”

But it didn’t arrive in three months, Liz says. “It actually took twice as long before the chair arrived! The doctor did not write the prescription in a way that the insurance company required. I took Mrs. Palmer to her doctor again and again. I asked the doctor to help Mrs. Palmer get a motorized chair. Even though the doctor had seen me several times, she always asked, “who are you?” When I said I am a friend and neighbor, she seemed suspicious. I don’t think people are used to others being good neighbors.”

Walks with Mrs. Palmer became a weekly activity as we helped her enjoy the outdoors. Now, she is able to enjoy the spring weather even without our assistance. 

Months after it was promised, the chair finally arrived. Anticipating Mrs. Palmer driving around in her new chair, Liz was surprised to visit and find her in the same old wheelchair while the new one sat in a corner. Mrs. Palmer, she discovered, needed help to overcome the learning curve of driving a motorized chair.  So, Liz found another willing volunteer.  One of the students from our Institute taught this 85-year old widow how to effectively use the joystick to drive the chair. After a little practice and a few scuffed door frames, Mrs. Palmer now is able to maneuver the chair with ease. The work of being an advocate resulted in an appreciative widow who is now able to experience a new and broader sense of independence and freedom.

Liz reflects, “Mrs. Palmer loves getting out. In fact, her adult son is blind and when she goes out, he holds on to the back of the chair and she takes him for a walk!  When I see her out driving her chair, I want to cry I am so happy.”

Though we have offered skilled laborers to help repair gutters and other repairs, we are so happy for the extensive roof repair to be offered by Westminster Home Connection. 

From wheelchair to rooftop--you never know where advocating will lead you. Another widow in our neighborhood lives in the same house she was born in nearly 80 years ago. The roof has had sections replaced and others parts patched and re-patched. It is now long past needing to be completely replaced. However, her small monthly income is not sufficient to cover the cost of a new roof. As Liz researched organizations and available grants to meet this need, she found Westminster Home Connection whose mission is to “create safe and functional homes.” They serve neighbors “who are senior or disabled with household income under $1,945 monthly who live in conditions that affect their health and safety, are at risk for falls or have limited mobility.” Mrs. Betty met the qualifications for this service and, after assessing the structure of her roof, it has been scheduled to have a new roof installed this summer.

The need to have a friend to advocate on behalf of those who are elderly, widowed, or disabled cannot be neglected. Liz Kagay has taken on this neighborly responsibility and in doing so, has highlighted the need for advocacy within our neighborhood:

“The Bible is very clear on our responsibility to care for the widows, orphans, and immigrants in society. These are the people who need someone to stand with them, support them, and advocate on their behalf. If I truly love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind and my neighbor as myself, how can I do anything less than help the widows in our neighborhood? I just really believe that our neighborhood can be a good place. This fuels me to find ways to get us there. One of the things that we simply cannot forget is to take care of the elderly who have lived in this neighborhood their whole lives. Sadly, their families are not always available. So, we have to stand in the gap. I’m happy to do that.”

Where we see need, we must be ready to meet it. Sometimes the work required is just getting the person in need to the resources available. That requires an advocate. Liz became it. So can you.