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Program makes room at table for poor (Page 3)

 
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Little steps, big leaps


Squires gives a playful thumbs up as she listens to a recording at a trade school offering degrees in medical coding and billing.
Squires gives a playful thumbs up as she listens to a recording at a trade school offering degrees in medical coding and billing.
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Squires has done a lot of the work on her own, volunteer Charles Schock said. “We supported her, but we didn’t solve those problems for her.”

Schock, a lawyer and alumnus of ASU, has been a member of Tempe First United Methodist Church since 1977. He said he didn’t know what Open Table was when Rynders asked him to be a part of the group.

“I just basically took a leap of faith,” he said. The Table has evolved and changed. “There is a synergy on this Table. We kind of found our roles along the way.”

The group really started bonding after a couple of social outings, he said. “We had a picnic one day, and that was fun. Then we went to a spring training baseball game.”

Recently, Squires dropped out of school, got a full-time job and then lost the job because she could not do the manual labor involved. Then she enrolled in community college classes and fell in love. Squires said all of those things occurring in less than a year have been the biggest surprise to her.

Stumbles along the way

Rynders said that with the exception of Squires, the people at the Table are “church folks.” When Squires got the full-time job, she started questioning whether she wanted to continue her plans to get a degree.



We give Casey encouragement and accountability, said Charles Schock, a member of Open Table and Tempe First United Methodist Church.
“We give Casey encouragement and accountability,” said Charles Schock, a member of Open Table and Tempe First United Methodist Church.
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“There was a lot of inner struggle on the Table. We asked ourselves, ‘Are we here to help Casey achieve her goals?’ or, ‘Are we here to make her accomplish what we think her goals should be?’

“For two months, it was pretty tense; the family was having issues,” Rynders said. “That was part of the growing process for us as a Table.”

Rynders is determined to clear the path for Squires to get back into school. Squires owes ASU $2,500 in medical withdrawal fees and can’t get advising or enroll in classes until that is repaid.

People of faith

Rynders said that with the exception of Squires, the rest of the Table is “church folks.” They are from different denominations — United Methodist, Southern Baptist, Episcopal and Catholic. Two of the original members — Indra Ekmanis and Joe Canarie — have graduated.

Insisting she share their faith or getting Squires into a church was not on the list of priorities for the Table. “Part of the Table model is you accept the person for who they are and where they are,” Rynders said. “It is providing that grace.”

All of the meetings begin and end with prayer. That is something Squires loves.

“I developed such a respect and admiration for these people, and I loved participating in the prayer and listening to them tell me about their faith and why there were involved in what they were doing,” she said. “I felt absolutely no pressure to convert but felt very accepted and respected, which gave me a deeper faith for people.”



Cara Coleman, far left, and Rynders, center, walk across the campus at Arizona State University after their weekly Wednesday lunch with students.
Cara Coleman, far left, and Rynders, center, walk across the campus at Arizona State University after their weekly Wednesday lunch with students.
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Squires said she wants to give back by someday being on an Open Table herself.

“Casey might not label herself a Christian or person of faith, but we have all seen how God has been at work in her life,” Rynders said.

Amazing journey

Open Table is not an easy task, Rynders continued. Katov said Squires became the rabbi teaching the rest of the group what it is like to free someone.

“That is not an easy thing or a good feeling,” he said. “It rearranges all your molecules, and it hurts sometimes.”

But all the trouble is worth it because of the rewards, Rynders said.

“The possibility to not only change a stranger’s life but (also) to change your own life, to change how you see the world, how you see poverty, to see people who are in need and the work that God does in your heart and in your mind is pretty amazing,” he said.

Schock admits it was tempting on some nights to stay home and watch "Monday Night Football" rather than go to the church for Open Table meetings. “Sometimes God stretches us in ways we are not exactly sure of. Sometimes when you do take that leap and you don’t know exactly where you are leaping, it can be very fulfilling.”

“It sends good ripples through the rest of your ministry about what your priorities are,” Rynders said.

“Everyone has something to offer, and that’s the great thing we have learned,” Coleman added. “We have learned just being in relationship is transforming.”

“A lot of times people don’t want to do the hard work,” Rynders said. “They rather just say, ‘Oh, that’s too hard. There is no way I can help a person who is in a situation like that. I don’t bring anything to the table so I am not going to even try.’ But this just shows if you do try, amazing things will happen.”

* Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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