If you hear the name “Miguel Alvarez,” what goes through your mind? Well, if you’ve ever seen the HBO television series “Oz,” you might think of a character with that name who was in a maximum security prison for assaulting an old man who accidentally scratched his car.
But thanks to a story I read online recently, I think about a far different kind of man. This Miguel Alvarez was in a kind of a facility, but it wasn’t a prison, and he was there willingly.
This Miguel Alvarez is a 33-year-old father who took a job as a janitor at the Valley Springs Manor Nursing Home in Castro Valley, California. A stay-at-home dad, Miguel accepted the low-wage job on October the seventh so he could buy Christmas presents for his kids. His friend, Maurice Rowland, a cook at Valley Springs Manor, helped him get the job.
Well, on October the twenty-fourth, the state suspended the facility’s operating license for a range of violations.
The owner, in response, just walked out and was last seen at a train station. All the other employees left, too—except for Miguel and Maurice. They stayed to help the residents left behind. It was chaos, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported, “Alvarez found himself changing diapers, bathing, spoon-feeding, and otherwise comforting more than a dozen seniors who had been abandoned there.”
Alvarez told the Chronicle, “I’m a janitor—I didn't know what I was doing. I just tried the best I could.” He was more than a janitor, of course. Miguel was a Good Samaritan.
Alone, Miguel and Maurice stayed at the Valley Springs Manor for two days, 24 hours a day. The Chronicle says that Miguel, in recounting what happened, “cried as he described a nightmarish scene of confused seniors shouting for help, some becoming weak and ‘zombie-like’ because they hadn’t received medication in several days, and others trying to escape.”
“I’d never want to see my parents or grandparents go through anything like that,” the paper reported this eight-dollar-an-hour janitor as saying. “I liked these people. And I wanted to treat them well.”
The story made me wonder, what would I have done in that situation?
Now consider Jeannine Seery, who told her story in Christianity Today. A year ago, the bottom floor of her house in Staten Island, New York, was horribly flooded by super-storm Sandy. The hurricane’s storm surge dumped four feet of polluted water in her home of 14 years, leaving behind a smelly layer of sludge and almost nothing of value.
A woman from her church came over to help. “She was standing on my back porch,” Jeannine says, “with a pile of photographs, pictures of my children that had been submerged in dirty ocean water. And she was taking the pictures, one by one, trying to air-dry them so a few might be salvaged.”
Jeannine continues: “Someone else might have come across this pile and thrown it in the garbage. Honestly, I might have. They were wet and dirty, and I can’t begin to describe the smell. But here was a practical stranger to me, doing all she could to hold onto my memories.”
And this Good Samaritan wasn’t alone! Jeannine says that during the long, hard months that followed, “the Staten Island Evangelical Relief Alliance provided the hands and feet of Jesus to my neighbors, my community, my Island. They would do whatever demolition and reconstruction work … was needed. … [T]hey would grieve with homeowners, listen to stories of those who rode out the storm, and pray with people who had no idea what the future held.”
As Chuck Colson liked to say, “In the worst of times, Christians do the best of things.” Just like the early Christians did when they stayed and cared for the sick and dying while the Romans fled as the plague ravished Europe. This isn’t social gospel, folks. It’s recognizing the social responsibility of the Gospel, treating people as if they were made in God’s image. Because they are.
Folks, the best answer to the question, “what would I have done if I were Miguel Alvarez?” is found in what you do the next time you see a need—great or small.
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