There’s this amazing place south of downtown Dallas called CitySquare. Their mission is to “…fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.” Their CEO is a man named Larry James, who was once a minister in the Church of Christ but has since found his way to the United Methodist Church.
If you ask Larry about how he came to leave his position as a pastor of a large church in Richardson to direct a food pantry in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas, the story you get in response will likely include mention of Josefina.
At the time Larry took over leadership of this largely volunteer-led food pantry, it was similar to many other food pantries, providing food, limited financial assistance, and resources for the materially poor. This was the mission that Larry had taken on; but the day he met Josefina, Larry says, “changed my life and my mission.”
On this day, Larry found himself interviewing three hispanic families at one time to assess their needs. He admits now that interviewing three families at one time is a terrible idea. But the adults had such limited knowledge of English, and Larry had no knowledge of Spanish, so it seemed practical to allow these families to pool their language knowledge by interviewing together.
But it wasn’t working. As Larry struggled, he looked up and saw an elderly hispanic woman who he had interviewed earlier in the day. She was walking out of the pantry with her groceries. “Ma’am, I need your help! Could you help me?” he asked. Josefina Ortiz replied, “Sure! I’m happy to help you, Larry. What do you need?”
Larry explained his translation difficulties. Josefina then began an animated conversation with the three families. Needs were assessed, and assistance was given. Josefina picked up her groceries and walked towards the door. Then she turned back and said, “Larry, I can come back tomorrow if you think you need my help.”
“Sure, Josefina, I could use your help.”
And Josefina came back tomorrow…for the next nine years.
CitySquare now provides a number of direct services, addressing hunger, health, housing and hope, in a 53,000 square foot collective impact campus in Dallas, with extension programs in Waco and Denver. Many of the people you’ll find helping there are ones who first came seeking assistance for themselves. Today, James traces the mission and growth of CitySquare to the day he met Josefina.
“Ma’am, I need your help! Could you help me?”
In his book, The Wealth of the Poor, James writes, “I now understand completely just how important that question is, especially for helpers to ask of those who are being helped.” (p. 49)
In your mission work, do you ever ask those who are being helped to take on the role of helper?
Prayer Focus: Pray for adults who struggle to communicate in our society due to language and/or literacy barriers.