One of Many

Posted Nov 05, 2010 by 1 Comments

This past week I have been working on a small side project for Elanco, an Indianapolis-based animal health company with a strong focus on ending global hunger. For the project, I spent time interviewing several families and individuals connected with Shepherd Community Center, one of World Next Door’s partner ministries.

Each story I heard gave such a unique perspective on hunger, poverty and the incredible work of Shepherd that I had no choice but to share them here.

You’ll find the other stories here. I encourage you to read them all. Who knows? Maybe they’ll change your perspective as much as they did mine…


 I’ve written about the plight of immigrants in American before (this article, for example).  Every year, thousands upon thousands of people flood into the U.S. looking to escape the poverty of their home countries.  They follow the dreams of a better life promised to them by American TV, movies and advertisements. 

But that dream quite often becomes a nightmare. 

Vast unemployment, deep poverty and a lack of healthcare lead many immigrant families to a day-by-day existence.  With a seemingly endless supply of cheap manual labor in our country, immigrant workers often live on the edge of a knife, knowing that even a single broken bone can lead to financial ruin.

The other day I met with one of these families.  Gabriela, whose name I changed for the sake of anonymity, sat down with me in her dilapidated old house to talk about what she goes through day by day.


Gabriela is not fluent in English.  As we spoke, she often drifted into Spanish, especially when she wanted to make an emphatic point.  Thankfully, I am able to understand a whole lot more Spanish than I can speak.  Somehow we made it work.

Gabriela’s house. An old and crumbling building.

Gabriela has six children from two marriages.  Her three oldest children are grown and currently live in Guadalajara, Mexico.  Her youngest three, still in elementary school, were born in the U.S. 

Her husband is a roofer.  For a while, this meant that he had a steady job.  Although the hours were long, the work was backbreaking and the pay was meager, her husband could make a living. 

Then the housing market collapsed.  Construction firms went bankrupt.  Suddenly, there were a lot of roofers looking for only a handful of jobs.

Today, he has a very hard time finding work.  And now, as winter approaches, Gabriela’s family must face a very uncertain future.

But a lack of work is not the only problem that comes along with winter…

The Luxury of Heat

When the weather gets cold outside, things become very difficult for Gabriela and her family.

Gabriela can’t afford much furniture. Most of the space in her house is empty.

After moving in to their current home, they quickly learned that heat in the winter was a luxury. They still use gas to heat their water and to cook, but keeping the gas on to heat their old, drafty house made their utility bills simply too expensive.

So, with no other option, they use small space heaters to stay warm.

Although it was only the beginning of autumn when I visited, I had to keep my jacket on inside.  I couldn’t imagine how cold it would get in the winter.

For My Kids

But despite the discomfort and hunger she herself faces, Gabriela has something much more important on her mind.  As we spoke, she told me over and over about her primary focus in life.  “I’m here for my kids.”

Like many immigrant parents, Gabriela has decided to forgo her own comfort, health and dreams of prosperity to ensure that her children have a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.

The near east side of Indianapolis is home to thousands of immigrant families eking out an existence on very little pay.

Because they are American citizens, her children are eligible for Medicaid and food stamps.  Gabriela, however, is not.

Whenever she gets her family’s monthly allotment of food stamps, Gabriela is able to feed her children well.  When I visited (at the beginning of the month), there was a nice chicken dinner simmering on the stove. 

But it is not always like that. When it gets to be the end of the month, and when the food stamps run out, Gabriela struggles to get food on the table.

Loving Community

Thankfully, Gabriela’s children don’t have to go hungry.  Right across the street from their home is Shepherd Community Center… a place of hope in a hopeless part of town.

Shepherd touches Gabriela’s family in a multitude of ways.  Her children have been able to develop a love of learning through Shepherd’s after-school program.  Her family has made it through the difficult months with food from Shepherd’s food pantry.  Each summer, her children get to enjoy Shepherd’s exciting summer camps.

On top of that, Shepherd Community Church is able to support Gabriela with a loving and supportive community.

“What would you do if Shepherd wasn’t here?” I asked.

She thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t know.  I don’t know what we would do without Shepherd…”


Dinner on Gabriela’s stove. For now, at least, they have food on the table.

Gabriela’s story is not unique.  In fact, there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who struggle with deep and cyclical poverty. 

That is why the work of Shepherd is so important.  Giving hope to hopeless people, giving a decent education to children at risk of illiteracy, caring for basic human needs such as hunger and medical care…

When I think about what Shepherd has done and will do for my city of Indianapolis, I can’t help but echo Gabriela’s sentiments exactly:

“I don’t know what we would do without Shepherd…”

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Next Steps
    • Watch this video to hear a brief message from Shepherd’s director, Jay Height, about how they have been weathering these tough economic times.
    • Take a look at Shepherd’s upcoming special events and see how you can get involved in the lives of a family just like Gabriela’s.
    • Pray for Gabriela’s children. Pray that they would be able to overcome the many cultural and socio-economic barriers that stand in the way of their education.
    • Consider supporting the work of Shepherd financially! Click here for more info.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Pam Orr said... 


    November 6th, 2010 at 10:46 am  

    I just loved this story!! It is so awesome to hear how we are helping our community by being a partner with Shepherd Community. It is great to hear from someone on the receiving end of this ministry! It really makes me appriciate all I have and encourages me to keep up my work helping others! Sometimes when “doing” I forget the inpact I am actually making on the people receiving. Thank you for inspiring me to be joyful in helping others and remembering how it effects them!!
    May God continue to Bless you and your ministry!

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