The Elisha Project is a story that was birthed more than 25 plus years ago; and for me – I know long before I was thought of. For the first few years of the project I tried to tell the Elisha Project story while concealing the very core of its inspiration. Perhaps embarrassment…perhaps ego.
Understanding that most people purposefully but with good reason, stay away from long narratives; I promise you that I will be as guarding of your time as I am with the lunches we prepare each Saturday.
In 1985, on a brisk March morning life as I knew it changed. Now everyone has a story to tell and mine is no better or worse than the next persons; this one just happens to be mine. There was a knock on my door requesting that my brother, grandmother and I accompany the person on a 20 minute taxi ride to my mothers residence. My brother and I lived with my grandmother. I was 15 years of age at the time.
When we arrived at the building in Brooklyn I can hardly remember anything but the details of what I experienced. I am unsure of what was said to me as I floated out of that car and bounded into the building. I once lived on the third floor with my mother, 2 brothers, 2 sisters and my stepfather.
As I climbed the stairs past many strange people I completely forgot how much I despised the decrepit building and it’s strange smells. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and is something 25 years later I see every time I see them again. My 2 sisters and 2 female cousins were coming down the stairs, daisy- chained together in their unkempt hair and pajamas. They were just babies with my 11 yr old sister being the eldest. They were so happy to see me. They smiled. And called my name. I was the eldest after all.
I kissed them and tears immediately rolled down my face as I has recently tried to enter the apartment but was not allowed. I hadn’t seen them in a while. They did not look well. What I assume was the bureau of child welfare kept them moving as I made my way up the stairs. On the next landing was my mother. She too was happy to see me. She was wearing that red coat that I despised and her blue bandana. This woman that I adored, that gave me life…that had loved me…was being led in iron handcuffs by policemen.
She called me by my name and had such a look of sadness, relief, joy and exhaustion on her face but none of those mirrored the look of pure anger I felt in my soul. As she leaned in to kiss me I instinctively pulled back and away. She shouted “I love you” as I ran up the stairs. I would never see her again. That’s a story for another day.
There are not enough words to describe what I found in that apartment. But my youngest brother of 7 years lost his life that day. For my mothers negligence and human frailty we all lost brother and mother.
He was a normal 7 year old boy and the love of my life. She was a great mother who fell on hard times and had no one there to lend a hand and knock on her door. To the the data collectors she was a statistic, as were we. To me she was the embodiment of a cruel world that ate up those not strong enough and not protected enough to fight back.
In my anger that day I vowed to do something about all of this one day. Now the route to doing something has been filled with a lot of detours through the military, school, corporate america, and even theological training but here we are…you see, every day that we are out there doing Elisha Project there is a good chance that we are reaching a mom on either side of the bag. A chance that a boy will see the love that he is missing. A chance that in so minute a gesture there is a flicker of that thing that people all over he world desperately need…HOPE.
And every day that we are out there I am reminded that he didn’t die in vain. A seed must fall into the ground in order to grow and blossom and feed so many more.
You may see food and clothes being handed out in the videos…but don’t be fooled, we are giving out LOVE and HOPE.
Sometime that materializes in a Saturday lunch. There are times when that materializes in Saturday dinner. Then there are the times when no one is watching and it’s just me and some mom on her last leg looking me in the eye and saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” And I can put my arm around her and say, “you can…and you must…and we are going to help you in any way that we can.”
God allows various situations to come in and out of our lives and they should never be squandered as merely a time. For every day opportunities are clothed in trials big and small. The love that God put in my heart and the plan that He had for me before I was made continues to be revealed every day. He also has a plan for you and your life.
We are not rich and we are not funded. What we are is incapable of ignoring the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, or neighbors that line our world.
That boy lives every time we serve. He has fueled me since that day in March and I thank God for his life. Come join us and Give of yourself. Love others. And Live for service.
George L. Ortiz, Jr.
founder and servant
The Elisha Project