This month I got a chance to meet Reverend Lou Ness. She’s about the same age as I am, and she’s walking from northern Illinois to Washington D.C. And I thought the 3-Day Walk against breast cancer was a big commitment. I first talked to Lou on April 3, and I’ve checked in with her from time to time to see where she is and what she’s up to. She invited me to take whatever I want from her website. I included one of her posts below my interview with her.
“I want you to walk out of the church, walk to Washington D.C., knock on the door and say, ‘You have not heard the cries of my people.’ ” Right there on the Kennedy expressway in Chicago, Reverend Lou Ness realized her mission. Over the years she advocated about the condition of people discarded from the American Dream. She held women who were raped and beaten by a loved one, mourned with mothers and fathers as they wept over the death of a child without adequate healthcare, struggled to increase resources for families knowing that many are left uncared for, living in desperation in this frigid weather, calling their cars home.
While on her journey to carry stories from Rockford’s neediest adults and children to our Nation’s capital, Reverend Lou Ness, Executive Director, Shelter Care Ministries, documents her encounters from other communities along the way. Her journey began on April 1st. She stops at local churches, synagogues and Buddhist temples for shelter when she can. Sometimes local restaurants offer he meals. Always she meets encouraging and inspiring people.
Ness began her 725 mile trek to The Church of our Savior in Washington D.C. in order to draw attention to America’s poor. She walks pushing a cart of her necessities: a tent, a small air mattress, and her food and water. Ness is prepared to camp, if the occasion demands it. She doesn’t always know how many miles she will walk. She has chronic cyclical neutrophenial, which means about once a month she has almost no infection fighting ability and gets extremely fatigued.
On day 14, rain, wind, and several detours due to road construction delayed Ness’s walk. She was near Gary, unsure whether she would need to camp for the night. At one point she sat down to rest, and wanted to stay right where she was. Metaphorically, “that’s what it’s like for people, when they become stuck in poverty. They can’t get to where they want to go.”
As a young mother, Ness experienced poverty. She felt “lower than a worm” when she went to the township seeking help. According to Ness, single mothers make up the highest demographics of today’s US homeless population.
Besides creating awareness and donations to fight poverty, Ness is drawing inspiration from the people she meets. She looked into the eyes of David, a road-weary man outside of Gary, Indiana, at the end of a trying day. David donated half of what he had his wallet, a wallet that contained just two dollar bills. How many of us are willing to give half of what we have to help a stranger?
If you’d like to read Reverend Lou Ness’s blog about her experience, go to http://shelter-care.org/. Or check out her Facebook Page: Hear Our Cry: Marching for America’s Poor. Here’s one of her posts:
Resting My Weary Feet
Well the rain and light snow finally made an appearance in Valparaiso, Indiana. I can sit and watch the weather from inside a nice dry warm church as this is a rest day for me. After 148 miles I am ready to sit for a spell.
I did not have the energy to write over the weekend as I was conserving myself, knowing I had three long days ahead of me. It’s not just the walking, that would be simple. It’s navigating the cart (which I love and am very grateful to have) the weather, the wind has been ferocious, construction, and no shoulders which means watching the traffic. Put it all together and it spells challenge!
There is so much to write about. Knowing the Annual Shelter Care Spring Luncheon will be on us in a few weeks, I want to share a story with you. The Spring Luncheon is currently the only fund event sponsored by Shelter Care and at this time of year it must get us to end of June. So sponsorship and general donations are very important to our work. At every church or group I have spoken with, money has come up in our discussions. The lack of, the meager gifting of people, the edge people feel towards wealth or lack of wealth. Even when money does not come up, it comes up – it’s always there.
Simply put – money is energy, it gives life and hope and secures the future stability of people. Money does not buy happiness — yet life is certainly filled with less struggle when you can pay the heat and keep the lights on! Ask anyone.
I was entering Gary, Indiana in the early morning. There was little traffic and I was walking along the airport road. Two things had already happened to set the tone of the day, or so I thought. One, I had to go three miles around a closed road, taking the walking goal from 15 to 18 miles. The road was rough, no shoulder and the cart was struggling. Second, I had lost my place to sleep and was unsure what would happen (I do have a tent with me; however the idea of tenting in Gary did not appeal to me very much).
As I was walking I noticed a tall black man following me. I don’t give rise to fear easily and I assume every person is a friend until they’re not, and yet I was alone on this road and I could feel a little anxiety. He caught up to me and here was the conversation:
“Hey, what ya doin’?” he said as I turned and stopped to look at him. “Walking to Washington DC.” I said.
“Why ya doin’ that?” I took a breath and determined he was no threat to me, “To end poverty in this country.”
“Wow, you walkin’ all that way pushin’ this here cart?” I nodded and waited.
“My name is David,” and he put his hand out for me to shake. I took his hand and looked straight into his eyes. David has been on the road, I can tell, I can see the weariness of walking everywhere you go and living on the edge – it takes something out of you.
His next words brought me back to our conversation, “Can I donate?” I though I heard him wrong, “What?” “Can I donate?” Now David did not look like he had two nickels to rub together and wasn’t I walking for people like David? He should keep his money and I told him that.
“No, I want to donate to this march; I want to help you.” And with that he took out his wallet and seeing two one dollar bills, gave me a dollar. “Here this is my donation to the march. I can give you one and I’ll keep one, is that ok?”
There are times when the less said the better – and so I accepted his gift, thanked him and we parted; he went his way and I went mine.
I thought of every dollar I have ever donated. I have never given 50% of my wealth to anyone. The work of Shelter Care is life giving and holy. Shelter Care and other agencies that work on behalf of people who are suffering rely on the generous hearts of others. Money is energy.
I left David behind, yet his dollar stayed in my hand giving me the energy to finish the day’s walk — David gave me more than money — David gave my heart hope and little did I know how much of that I would need to walk through Gary.