Friday, June 4, 2010

Feeling Called to Help Others

As some of you might know, I live next door to the Cathedral in the Park Chateau apartments. Because it’s so close, the cathedral staff and clergy have become a kind of extended family for me. And I am very grateful because I know they care about me and try to look after me.
But, I have to admit I drive them a little crazy from time to time when I occasionally open my home to someone in need of a place to stay. Usually it’s someone who is in-between jobs, having become separated from their family or experiencing a low point in their life. I let them stay on my couch for whatever period of time they need to get back on their feet.

People might think I'm a little out of my mind to let folks who are at first strangers into my home. Maybe so. But I feel called to do so, within reason, due to experiences in my own life.

You see, many years ago as a young man I found myself homeless. I was going through a dark time in my life, battling depression and was even hospitalized at one point. When I got out, I didn’t have any place to stay and found myself sleeping wherever someone would let me.
I can remember one night asking an acquaintance if I could sleep in their car for a night. To this day, I can remember the embarrassment of having to ask someone I didn’t even know very well, if I could sleep in his driveway. That was one of the lowest points in my life. Having no place to sleep is just about the last thing a man should be made to suffer.

A few years later, in the 1970’s, after I had gotten back on my feet, I was living in the Bay Area. Driving from work I started to notice more and more people living in poverty, starving, and without living accommodations. These people were living in front of storefronts, and at People’s Park in Berkeley and in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Finally I made a phone call to the Berkeley Free Clinic, which at that time was housed inside the lower portion of a church, and let it be known that I wanted to offer my apartment for the homeless. Eventually, the clinic agreed and, after a screening process, would make referrals to me.

My apartment was large enough to accommodate up to 4 people at one time. I must have had 20 or 30 people come through there in those days, of all ages and stations in life. And yes, it was a little uncomfortable and a little crazy at times, but it was also a time when I never felt more alive. How gratifying and enlivening it was to help these folks; to learn their names, to hear their stories and share their dreams.

It’s a practice that I have kept up pretty much my whole life. And even today, I will occasionally make my home available to those in need. In all the years of doing so, I have never been ripped off or taken advantage of. Is there some risk? Sure. But just as I was given a second chance, I truly feel that it is my ministry to extend that hospitality to others.

Christ said I was hungry and you gave me food. Because of my life experiences, I have come to understand that he was not only hungry for bread, but for understanding, for being loved, for being known, for being someone to someone.

When I help others, I try to see Christ in them, as others once saw him in me.

Harold Potter

1 comment:

Richard said...

Harold, you have always made me feel welcome at St. Paul's, but your post shows that you go far beyond greeting at the Church door. Your post bought to mind a line from the Victor Hugo classic "Les Misérables" - "to love another person is to see the face of God". Your witness reminds us all that living God's call is not just a fairy tale, a classic book or a West-End musical but it is and should be a daily reality. Thank you for your love and kindness to me and to the many people who you have seen the face of God in.