“You will have to talk to the state.” That's what an Iraqi woman was told Thursday afternoon after she was informed the State of Washington no longer covers eye glasses for adults on state assistance.

We had spent an hour at the optometrist's office, after being referred there by the woman's doctor. She was assured that insurance would cover the visit. Turns out the state would only pay for determining what was wrong, not for the actual care.

This woman has been trying to get a job for the past couple of years and so far has been unsuccessful. She attends English classes at night via the public transportation system and is a mother of two teenage children. She has diabetes and a medical problem with one of her legs. She came here from Iraq during our military's campaign there. She had to choose between staying as a refugee in a country outside of Iraq, which wouldn't allow her residency, or she could move to the U.S. Her journey has been tough, leaving family and friends and struggling to adjust to life in America. She looked at me as I tried to explain she would have to pay $100 for the glasses she needed. I know she lives on less than $500 cash a month and didn't have the money. It was an awkward moment as we stood at the counter looking at the glasses, the bill and the financial distance between.

I told the lady behind the counter that our church would pay for the glasses. The church gets donations for situations like this. I want this woman to be well, to see correctly and to be able to succeed at finding a job and providing for her family.

Our nation and state are facing deep budget cuts. I pay a lot of taxes and that money pays for all kinds of stuff I would never spend it on (like wars). On Thursday I felt the impact of those budget cuts as I was looked straight into the eyes of this woman. I know the church is going to be called upon to step into the gap that is growing between the state and the poor. That will probably please some politically right leaning types of people, until they realize that the church is us. So in the days ahead, the question will be — what are we going to do about it?

2 Comments

  1. Judy Merrill-Smith

    Thanks for writing about this topic. I am a church staff member who answers phone calls and talks with people who walk in off the street who say they are in need. Frankly, some folks are out there scamming, but there are lots who are in genuine distress.

    As a church, our policy has been to give money every month to local nonprofits who are better equipped to handle these issues than we are, but so many people and their circumstances fall through the cracks. Many of these folks tell us that they’ve been told to go to the churches because the nonprofits can’t help them. I have given money out of my own pocket, as have my fellow staff members, ministers and volunteers. I don’t know that there is a best way to handle it. We are all children of God, who need love, respect, dignity and hope; I strive to remember this as I am confronted by the realities of this life.

  2. Judy, I agree, sin, brokenness, family rupture, abuse, addiction, mental illness, poor education have resulted in a sub culture of poverty and dysfunction that have helped produced the challenges we are facing.

    I pastor and live in the East Central neighborhood of Spokane and experience these realities, challenges and the opportunities weekly if not daily. It’s tough.

    We too have our policies and practices in place to help foster a presence that empowers and dignifies and limits the enablement of the abuse and scamming going on.

    One on one these are matters of mercy but we also work on matters of Justice. That’s the hard work of addressing why we got here. Systems, powers, etc.

    Most of the time all of these stories end up breaking and forming me more than me doing to much awesomeness.

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