A Tale of two ships
by Jay Height
In the middle of the night on April 14, 1912, the Titanic slammed into an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the ocean; some 1,500 people died in the disaster.
What is not so well known is how two other ships responded to the Titanic's cry for help.
The crew of the SS Californian, cruising close enough to see the signal flares, ignored the distress call, turned off the radio, and retired for the night, assuring themselves that they could check on the source of the flares at daybreak. Aboard the HMS Carpathia, perhaps as many as sixty-five miles away, Captain Arthur Henry Rostron readied his ship and crew for a massive rescue operation.
Heading full-speed through the icy, dark waters, Rostron risked his own ship just to get to the Titanic. He converted two dining rooms into medical triage centers; diverted all power to the engine room; dropped cargo nets to fish survivors out of the water; and then, after all preparations had been made, went off to pray. Rostron and the crew of theCarpathia saved every Titanic survivor, while the crew of the Californian slept just thirteen miles away.
Today, many of our neighbors are like the Titanic, sending out distress signals, begging for help, and succumbing to the icy waters. And too many of us are like the Californian, standing idly while someone else comes to the rescue.
For nearly twenty years, Shepherd Community, a faith-based social service agency serving inner-city Indianapolis, has sailed the often-stormy seas of inner-city ministry to show compassion to those in need of assistance. Our goal is to show the heart of compassion in the heart of the city, and in a sense our model is the Carpathia. We strive to meet the physical, social, educational, and spiritual needs of families in our near-eastside neighborhood through relevant, hands-on programs and services.
To meet the neighborhood's ever-changing needs, Shepherd Community continues to add and expand our programs and services to men, women, and children in need. We've become an integral part of the racially diverse neighborhood we serve by providing programs that positively impact the lives of people today and offering hope for a better tomorrow.
Like Captain Rostron, we realize we cannot help or rescue everyone; but that shouldn't prevent us from trying to help those within reach. Together with other Carpathias and Captain Rostrons, organizations like Shepherd are making a difference in inner-city neighborhoods across America.
I could tell you about the number of meals we cook each week, or how many kids we serve, or how much money we raise (and how much more we need); but those are just statistics--and the people we serve are not statistics. They are hungry children, struggling moms, fractured families. They are people with real names and real lives and real needs.
They are people like "Timmy," who was born to a fourteen-year-old mother. Timmy was a sickly little boy. Nagging illnesses kept him away from school and made it hard for him to learn even when he was able to go to school. He ended up flunking kindergarten and almost died--but not because of disease. Since Timmy's mom couldn't read, she was giving him six doses of antibiotics per day rather than three--and unwittingly making her son even sicker. (Thankfully, he didn't die.)
We found that her illiteracy was also contributing to Timmy's problems at school. After all, Timmy's teachers and principal were communicating with his mother in the form of letters. She couldn't help her son work on the areas he needed to work on because she couldn't read the school's letters, just as she couldn't give her son the medicine he needed because she couldn't read the doctor's prescription.
In response, Shepherd Community developed the Paraclete Family Relationship Counselor. This program comes alongside parents to help them make sense of what teachers or doctors or clinics need to help their children. Paraclete counselors work with teachers to make sure kids do their homework, serve as intermediaries between parents and teachers to make sure they are on the same page, and sometimes even take kids to the doctor's office to make sure they get the care they need.
Community- and faith-based organizations (CFBO) like Shepherd are Carpathias in a sea of Californians. In most cases, they don't want help from county, state, or federal governments; they just want government to get out of the way so that they can do what they do best--helping those in need.
Our Paraclete program, for example, is working, but not as well as it could or should. That's because every now and then we encounter a public-school bureaucrat, who, despite the best of intentions, is afraid to deal with us because we happen to be a faith-based organization. The result is that one of their students--one of our neighbors--is left stranded at sea. What most CFBOs want is for government to remove the barriers that prevent or delay them from helping--barriers like misunderstood or misapplied court decisions, arbitrary and anachronistic rules, policies that protect the needy from being proselytized as well as being helped.
Of course, "getting out of the way" doesn't mean there is no place or role for the public sector in rescuing the helpless and hopeless. To the contrary, this mission is too big to be attempted alone. Every part of every sector can contribute something to this cause.
We don't want to wait for daybreak. We don't want to avert our gaze. And we don't want to let someone else answer the call. We just want to help--and the government shouldn't get in the way when we lower our life rafts.