It is funny how problems show up on our radar. Sometimes they walk in the door. Sometimes they come through the phone. Sometimes it is a whisper. We are just finishing up with such a case. We were told of a man who was about to have his electricity turned off unless he paid the electric company a lump sum and agreed to a monthly payment plan. At first look, this sounds very reasonable, but as we started to dig deeper, we found that the young man was in a hopeless situation.
He came in with his sister and brought his electric bills with him. His sister laid out the situation, how he got behind on his bills, and why he would not be able to handle the settlement offered by the electric company. As she was talking, I noticed that the man sat motionless in his chair. He would only respond if asked a direct question.
The story is that he has been living in a basement apartment for over four years. The apartment has electric heat. When I asked him what he did in the winter, he said, “I turn off the baseboard heaters and use a small electric heater that I can carry with me to keep me warm.” “So, by doing this you were able to keep the electric bill down so you could pay it?” I asked. “Right,” he answered. “Well, what happened that caused you to use so much electricity this past winter?” I asked. “My brother came to live with me. He was very sick and needed to keep the heat on so he could be warm,” he said. Then he said, “He died.” It was like being struck between the eyes with a two by four! At this point I suggested that he leave the electric bills with me, and I would try to figure something out and would get back to him early next week. He and his sister left, and I sat back in my chair and said a Hail Mary for him.
I reviewed the electric bills and decided to call the electric company to see how we might resolve this problem so he could continue to live in his apartment. If we could not get it resolved and he had to move, then his life would drop down a few notches.
My call to the electric company ended very quickly. “I am sorry, Sir, your name is not on the account. Good-bye.” CLICK. I then had the man call to have my name put on the account. “OK,” he said. “And I will call you right back.” He called about five minutes later and told me my name was on his account. My second call ended almost as fast as the first one. Yes, they could tell me about the account, but I should know that a “Turn Off Notice had been issued for later in the month. No, he has the lowest electric rate possible. No, the payment plan could not go any lower or longer. Thank you for calling, CLICK.
So Kathy and I sat down to explore ways we could help the man. After exploring a bunch of different ideas the one that seemed to make the most sense would be for the Urban Missionaries to pay off the outstanding electric bill, so he would be starting from zero and would not be incurring any additional interest charges from the electric company. The only question was where were we going to get the $2563.63 to pay off the balance. My answer to questions such as these is always, “This is a faith ministry. We just have to wait on the Lord.”
So, I called the man and asked him to come in so we could talk about a possible solution. “Yes, I will be there.” He and his sister arrived right on time for the appointment. After the meeting, Kathy commented, “Do you notice that they are on right on time whenever they come in for an appointment?”
After everyone sat down, I started, “We have a solution that we would like to tell you about. The Urban Missionaries will pay off your electric bill. And you can repay us $50 each month until the $2663.63 is paid off. This way you will not have to pay interest on the payment plan that you may or not be able to pay. If for any reason you are unable to make the monthly payment call us. How does that sound to you?” His sister spoke first, “Thank you, thank you, how can we ever repay you for doing this for us?” Then she said, “He can do this and I can help him.” and for the first time since this situation started, I detected a smile, albeit a very small smile, come across his face.
I then explained that we would send him a bill for the $50 on the first of each month. Then I called the electric company and worked out how we could pay his balance over the phone. We were able to work it out, and his account balance was now zero, and the Turn off notice was removed. “OK,” I asked? “OK,” he said. We then said goodbye, and out the door he went.
As I write this, I cannot tell how we are going to make up the money we used for this payment and I cannot tell you that we will ever see him again. In the world we minister in, that’s the way it is! Thank you, Lord Jesus.