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With all due respect, Pastor, we have to take care of our own needy people first.” It irritated Pastor Walter Mitty to hear Hilda Hossenbrenner lecturing him. “Your idea to take up a collection to help the people in Niger and Darfur is noble, but there is so much suffering in New Orleans right now that our appeal on Sunday should be for those people who have lost everything.”

Pastor Mitty took a deep breath. Last Wednesday had started out pretty well for him. Mother Nature had finally turned down the heat. He had slept like a log with his bedroom window open. His lawn was finally greening up after the drought, and the latest polls showed that the majority of Americans were now opposed to the war in Iraq. Reading about Cindy Sheehan’s protest outside George Bush’s ranch made his mind go back to the excitement and energy he felt as a student during the 1960s.

“Hilda, I was moved by what Hurricane Katrina did to those people, too, “Mitty began. “But many of those people had a chance to evacuate the city and they didn’t heed the warnings. Those people south of the Sahara never had that chance. They are stuck where they are, either in refugee camps or in their drought ravaged country.” He looked around for support in the faces of his council members. He didn’t get any.

“I think you’re minimizing the devastation down South,” Debbie Anderson said. “Everyone is saying that the destruction there is of biblical proportions. So many of those people are left with nothing.”

Mitty realized it was getting to be the late innings in this particular ball game and he was down by five runs, but he decided to step up one last time and take a few more swings. “The destruction is massive. I agree with you, Debbie. But I’m not sure “biblical” is the right word. In the biblical flood, everyone except Noah’s family died. In New Orleans maybe a few hundred have died. But in Niger and Darfur several MILLION people are going to die if we don’t do something. I mean, we had National Guard troops in New Orleans a few days after Katrina hit, but it has taken months for anyone to even think about doing something for those people in Africa. It’s like they’re not even on the radar screen anymore.”

The council members of Poplar Park Community Church liked and respected their pastor, but in general they dismissed some of his bright ideas as smacking too much of the peace and love rhetoric he had learned in his student days. They did what they had learned to do. They stood back and let his hurricane, as it were, blow itself out, and in the calm after the storm they did what they knew they were going to do all along.

It was Dominique who broke the silence after his pastor’s little sermon. “I move that we have a special offering on Sunday for people in dire need, and that 90% be given to the Red Cross. I think Pastor made a good point, so I move that 10% be given to the United Nations to help the people of Niger.” The motion passed unanimously.

The meeting ended without any more controversy. As council members headed towards the doors, Hilda Hossenbrenner approached her pastor as he collected his papers and calendar. “Do you have a minute?”

“Of course, Hilda. What’s up?”

“There’s something I want to ask you for.”

“You mean an envelope for the New Orleans relief appeal? I won’t have

the envelopes printed until. . . .”

“No, it’s not that. Well, it is. . . . .sort of.” Hilda twisted her handkerchief as she searched for words. “It’s. . .well. . .I don’t have any money to give to the appeal. It’s because of Clifton.”

“Clifton?”

“Yes. Clifton has been diagnosed with diabetes and the medicine and other expenses are leaving me with no money to spare for anything else.”

“But. . .but, your husband died four years ago, Hilda,” Mitty stammered.

“No, no, Pastor. It’s not about my husband. I guess I never did tell you. About a year ago I was so lonely rattling around by myself in our big house that I decided to go to the humane society and get me a dog.

Well I walked in, and there in a cage was a dog that looked at me with big brown eyes and was wagging his tale. He was a mutt, of course, but he stole my heart. I took him home that day, and he’s been my best friend ever since. Named him Clifton after my husband.”

One part of Mitty knew he should be empathic and caring in a situation like this, while another part of him thought, “This is really bizarre.”

“So between the bills from the vet and the cost of medicine,” continued Hilda, “I really don’t have any money left for charity. And, well, what I really wanted to ask you was. . .well. . .could you come over tomorrow and lay hands on Clifton?”you know, like you do when people in thecongregation are sick?”and pray for healing?”

Pastor Mitty did what he always did when he didn’t know what to do. He said, “I’ll look at my calendar, Hilda, and call you tomorrow.”

As Pastor Walt locked the side door of the church and headed home, he shook his head. “I have the strangest job,” he thought. “We begin the evening debating about where to give the three or four hundred dollars we’ll collect on Sunday, and I end the evening not knowing if I should go over to Hilda’s tomorrow and pray for her dog.”

Thinking about Hilda’s Clifton reminded Mitty about his brother up in Manitowoc. As soon as he got home, he picked up the phone and dialed the 920 area code. “Herman? Walt. I just called to see how Brownie is doing.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks Walt. Well, Susan and I decided to put her to sleep.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. The vet said Brownie has Lyme Disease of all things. Said there were treatments, but when he told us what the cost would be, Susan and I looked at each other and right away agreed that we needed the money for more important things.”

“Are the kids torn up?”

“Sure, as you can imagine. But you know how mom and dad raised us. You took care of animals and got attached to them, but in the end, they weren’t people, so when the time came you had to be practical and put them out of their misery. You and I learned to deal with loss that way,and our kids will, too.”

Mitty felt the cool breeze carress him as he opened his bedroom window. Falling asleep he had a dream. In it Herman and Hilda were having a conversation about what to do with Clifton.