“Noureddine is a kind man. He has helped deliver stuff to us without charge. When I couldn’t collect my medicine from the clinic, he did. God bless him.” This is how a neighbor described the way Noureddine Elmihnida, a former convict in Morocco, is responding to his country’s coronavirus pandemic.
The thirty-seven-year-old explained: “My parents were ashamed of me and my actions, and I needed to make things right.” He left prison determined not to return to a life of crime and drugs, embracing “the idea of reconciliation, first with my parents who were affected the most, then with the community I grew up in.”
He and other ex-convicts and some volunteers began working to make life better in El Youssoufia, a crime-ridden, densely populated neighborhood. They cleaned, painted, and planted the area.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Morocco established strict lockdown measures in March, leaving many elderly and vulnerable people stuck at home without food or medical supplies.
Elmihnida volunteered to do grocery shopping and pick up medicine for them. His phone now rings constantly with calls from neighbors or friends who know someone in need. He writes down their grocery and medical requests. Then, armed with his permit to leave the lockdown, he does their shopping.
His services have gained the attention of more well-off residents, who make donations to him that he then distributes to the poor. “I swore to God not to take any money for my services,” he said.
Another convict released recently from prison has been volunteering with Elmihnida. He said, “Noureddine was a troublemaker for ten years, but he’s a changed man now. He has helped paint the neighborhood and plant it, and now he’s helping people at the most needy of times.”
We can get up or we can give up
It’s hard to think of someone who has greatly helped others in hard times who did not come through hard times themselves. When George Washington was a young soldier, he was forced to surrender the fort he was defending to the French. Thomas Jefferson struggled with financial debts nearly his entire life. Abraham Lincoln lost numerous elections.
Moses was a fugitive felon before leading his people out of Egyptian slavery. David’s moral failures with Bathsheba are well known, as are Peter’s denials of his Lord, and Paul’s persecution of Christians.
One reason God so often uses people who have struggled is that they better understand people who struggle. Great players often fail as coaches to communicate with mediocre players. Pastors who have not experienced public moral failure can be especially judgmental toward those who have.
But the fact is, your last sin and mine were enough to send Jesus to the cross. Private sins grieve the heart of our holy Father just as much as public failures.
The question is not whether we will fail but how we will respond to failure. It has been noted that in life, we can get up or give up. There’s not a third option.
Why do you need to make this choice today?