Who is my neighbour?

Written by Karen Batt (co-founder of Serve the City Madrid)

I often talk about the call to “love my neighbor” as the reason I got involved with Serve the City. One day in April, a lady came to the STC office in a desperate state, and it was clear I had a choice: to put into practice the chance to show love to her, my neighbor, or send her away, because we aren’t able to meet all her needs ourselves.

As I listened to her, it became clear that what she was telling us wasn’t really the real issue that was causing her such clear anxiety. So, over the next half hour and through many tears, she told us what was really going on.

You see, she has accumulated more papers and magazines and books than anyone could read in a lifetime, and has done this due to compulsion, in a chaotic way. As a result, she had been issued with a court order to clear out everything she has, or be forced out of her rented room and everything she has inside would be thrown away. She only had 3 weeks to resolve the situation and was in state of despair, as this is a task bigger than she could face alone. Thinking about removing all these items causes her extreme stress, while at the same time she also recognizes that she desperately needs help both physically, emotionally and psychologically to move out of this current state. She describes her life as a prison and has reached the end of her capacity to continue to face her challenges alone.

So how do you go about helping someone in a situation like this? We aren’t professional psychologists, and we have never been asked to step into something like this.

So, we did what we do with all our neighbors, we went to visit her, and to listen.
We took a look behind the door and faced the truth of her situation with her, without judgement, with great compassion, and a willingness to do what we could.

We sent messages, we spoke on the phone, we showed her that we care, that she is important, and that we are here. We gave hugs and words of encouragement and were with her as she cried.

At the next inspection, she was given another month to resolve the situation, as the progress she had made had been recognized! She knew she wasn’t alone and for the first time in many years was able to make a start.

We then gathered together a few friends and spent an afternoon clearing out over 30 boxes worth of papers. That day we shared a cake with her that she had bought us to say thank you, celebrating together the progress made.

There are more boxes ahead, and much help that she still needs in so many ways but I write this to encourage and challenge you.

There is still so far to go on her road to healing, in this immediate crisis and beyond. We believe there is an “after” still to be written for her, and that her desire to be free can be realized.

What she wants more than anything is to give her time in return and to volunteer helping others here in Madrid.

In time, our neighbor will become a neighbor to others, and who knows how many people will be impacted by her story that would have been so easy to ignore when she first came knocking…

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