What Urban Missionaries Do

Did you ever hear the phrase WWJD? Well, I have more times than I would care to admit. It translates to “What Would Jesus Do?” It has been used in the past to teach young adults a method of determining how they should respond to life’s issues. I used to have some fun toying with the many different answers that would come to mind when I would bump up against one of life’s little dilemmas. Over time, I thought of it less and less until it faded way back in my memory.

Then along comes the St. Stephen Housing Initiative and with it the issue of having to evict two tenants from their homes. First of all, let me explain why this dramatic action was necessary. The purpose of the Saint Stephen Housing Initiative is to provide a place for newly arrived refugees, immigrants, or asylees. After some heated debate, and some legal advice, it was decided that the best course of action was to replace the current tenants with families that fit our profile.

The family on the first floor offered to move right away if we could help them with the first month’s rent and security deposit for a new apartment they had found. Having no experience with these matters, we turned to our attorney who simply stated that this is a “cash for keys” transaction and it would expedite the process. For us, it was a case of extortion! They were simply holding us up, but under some pressure to do the right thing, we made the payment and the tenants moved out without further delay and a refugee family moved in on May 1st.

The third floor was empty when we bought the building and we only had to purchase a washer and dryer and do some plumbing work to get it ready so we had a family move into it on June 1st.

Ok, two down and one to go. The family on the second floor was a Section 8 tenant. They told us that they had secured an apartment, but it needed to be inspected by Section 8 before they could move into it, so they requested a one-week extension before they could move. We agreed. The week went by and then another still no word from them as to when they would vacate the apartment.

Then we got a letter from Section 8 stating the apartment was inspected and there were some issues that need to be taken care of before the inspector would return – tomorrow!  This was completely new to us, so I made plans to meet with the inspector when he came. He was a pleasant fellow of sorts and reviewed the problems. The refrigerator door handle was missing and the bedroom was missing a screen in the apartment. Then we went to inspect the basement. Here he found that we had an electrical connection box where a wire had been cut, and we needed a co2 detector. These were high priority items and were required by federal law to be fixed within 24 hours.

As he was writing up his notes, I asked him why he was doing this inspection when the Section 8 people told me they were not responsible for this family because the tenant had told them they were moving by May 1st and they would only be required to pay the April rent for the tenant. The inspector was immediately defensive and called his boss. “Do the inspection,” his boss said, and then they would contact Section 8.  I could tell he was not a happy camper as he hurriedly left the basement and didn’t even say good-bye. The last thing he did say was,”you have 24 hours to get these items fixed!

When I got back to my office, I immediately called Section 8 housing and left a message. They called me back and when I explained what happened the Section 8 representative told me, “that inspection was a routine process and the paperwork to cancel it probably had not caught up with the inspection company and not to worry. The problem is that we are now one month without rent and no hint of when this family is going to vacate. The next week, I received two letters on the same day, one from the inspection company stating they had found a number of new violations that needed to be resolved within 24 hours and the other from Section 8 stating there were no outstanding violations in the building. 

By this time, I started to figure out that we were being played by the tenant. Every time we would meet them before I could ask them when they would be leaving they would complain about “those people” do this or that. I found myself constantly defending the new tenants. By now, I was getting somewhat agitated and had thoughts that ran along the lines of, “if they were good people, they would have moved, but instead they were living in our apartment and not paying rent. What kind of people are they?” I found myself really taking a dislike to them.

As I was plotting these ideas in my mind, the thought came to me, “What would Jesus do? “Where did this come from?” I can remember thinking. I want these people out of the apartment, now, and now I find myself thinking, really what would Jesus do?  As I pondered this question, I found that I really had no idea of what Jesus would do in this situation. As you can imagine I had a number of scriptural passages pass through my mind. “Render unto Ceaser,” or the one where Philip and John wanted to call down fire to destroy those who didn’t listen to Jesus, etc, etc. None of these treasured passages really soothed the wild beast in me. All I  could think of was how “those people” were not behaving the way “good people” behave in this situation. This dilemma rolled around in my head for over a month with no satisfactory solution.

Finally, after much prayer and pondering, I decided that we needed to go to court and have the family removed. I told the tenants what I was going to do. They immediately countered with, “pay us the first, last month’s rent and the security deposit for our new apartment and we will leave. I countered with, “you owe us two and a half months rent, why should I pay you anything else?” Immediately, I saw the shock on their faces! “What?” they said, “Section 8 pays the rent.’ “No, you told them you were leaving on May first so they stopped paying the rent.”

It was then I realized what really was happening. They thought the rent was being paid, so didn’t understand our complaint. We weren’t getting paid, so we wondered what was wrong with these people? I said, “I am sorry, but I have no choice but to have the court remove you, and if the court does issue the order to remove you, you are in jeopardy of losing your section 8 voucher.” Upon hearing this, they both paled and immediately closed the door to their apartment.

A week later, I got a phone call from the tenant, they were moving out and wanted to schedule a walk through and to give us the keys to the apartment the next morning. I arrived with Alex, our LittleStore clerk, who could speak Spanish if I needed to explain things. When the tenant arrived she gave me the keys to the doors, but would not come into the apartment because she was going to be late for work so she hurriedly went down the stairs and out into the parking lot behind the house.

“It was done,” I thought, but I still had that nagging question in my head, “What would Jesus do?”