Alli Lance has always had a heart for travel and a heart for God.
Her most recent trip led her to New York to perform relief work in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. She joined 13 other students from Resonate Church who traveled to Staten Island during winter break.
“Hurricane Sandy was incredibly devastating. Those of us in the Northwest heard about it for about a week and had let it leave our minds as soon as it left the news.”
During her time in New York, Alli met a man named Todd and his mother, Eileen. Alli and a fellow teammate were assigned to their house with simple instructions: “there is trash that needs to be taken out.” In any other context, the phrase would not have held much significance, but the ‘trash’ that Alli and her teammate had to dispose of was most of Todd and Eileen’s belongings.
The process was especially hard for Eileen and although she had a pleasant demeanor, she had to excuse herself because of the difficulty of watching as her belongings were thrown away. “I remember seeing her begin to cry, and I felt that I had known her my whole life,” Alli said.
After a time, Eileen came back out to join the rest of the crew and engaged in some casual banter, which seemed to lighten the mood amidst the dreary environment. Throughout the rest of the time they were there, Alli grew close to Eileen, and hoped to see her and her son again, though the odds were not likely.
A couple days later, Alli was volunteering with the Red Cross, making and delivering lunches. The route was previously mapped out for the driver, and when Alli got a look at it, much to her surprise she saw that they would be driving by Eileen and Todd’s house.When they arrived at their street, Alli saw they were standing outside and made the driver come to a halt. She promptly got out and sprinted back to where Todd and Eileen were standing. They exchanged pleasantries, but again Alli wished she could spend more time with them, and prayed that it would be so.
“When we were working for them, Eileen and Todd made a pizza donation to our group,” Alli remembers. When they got the chance to use it, Alli called their house to invite them to come along. Todd answered the phone sounding cheery and pleasant, but Alli could hear an undertone that was unmistakable.
“Todd explained to me that his father had collapsed and that he was on a respirator.” Alli chatted with him for a while, asking how Eileen was holding up, and hung up the phone fighting back tears.
“I asked my team to pray for them. I thought, ‘This is it. That was the last conversation I will ever have with this family and it was one filled with such sorrow.’”
But God is faithful. Their very last day in New York was split between two smaller jobs handing out Bibles and teddy bears to the families that they had served. Alli and her team had prayed for Todd and Eileen, but had not been able to give them a Bible. When the team arrived at their house, Todd was there, but Eileen was absent.
As soon as Eileen arrived, Alli gave her a hug and could hear a sense of relief in her breath. When she asked Eileen about her husband she was met with more devastating news.
“I’m planning his funeral.”
The whole group was in shock, but Alli saw hope in Eileen’s eyes. “We let them know that we wanted to bless them with our gifts and pray for them. I thanked God for our meeting, for the opportunity to serve them, and prayed that through their devastation there would be purpose.”
Though she was deeply saddened, Alli trusted in the Lord because she knew that God gives peace and grace even in times of hardship and grief. Returning home, Alli reflected deeply on the fact that the Bible is not only filled with stories of God’s power, but also the cries of His people.
“Lamentations and a good portion of the Psalms reveal how God’s people cry out to Him for rescue and help. In Matthew 5, Jesus specifically blesses those who are mourning and poor in spirit. Psalm 34 says, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ We can fiercely hold onto the hope of God’s enduring love and faithfulness. We know He will keep His promises and walk with us even when life deals us shuttering blows.”
Throughout Alli’s time with this family, there was one phrase they kept repeating: Praise God.
“Though their story is hard to bear, and though it’s difficult to see what joy could come from this, I know God is working. Even through incredibly difficult circumstances, this family was able to focus on the fact that God had not forsaken them, but instead He was closer to them than ever.”
Alli will never forget what God showed her in New York, and the relationships she built there.
“Todd and Eileen love the Lord, through the good, the bad, and the ugly. I always leave for these trips expecting to teach and to bring joy to others, but God brings me back to reality when I meet families like this. I didn’t do anything. God didn’t need any of us but gave us the gift to serve and be used for His glory.”