You’ve probably never heard of Edme Champion. Neither had I until I stumbled past the house where he was born in the little village of Chatel-Censoir, France. It was an indistinct house set into the hillside. The plaque on the side of the house was almost unnoticeable. The only reason we saw it was that we had just finished hiking 100 miles in the Chablis region of France and these final steps were at the end of a steep set of stairs. We had stopped for a second to catch our breath and we noticed the plaque.
The village was beautiful and we were headed for the medieval church at the top of the hill and then on toward the bar where we had arranged to catch a ride back to our hike’s starting point. But now we paused to meet Edme.
Edme was born in the 1700s, he was orphaned at the age of seven. Homeless. Parentless. Penniless. Hopeless. Except an old woman, whose name no one seems to remember, took him in. Others stepped up to help Edme too. The old woman’s neighbors paid for his education. Eventually, he became an apprentice to a jeweler.
For me, this story is not so much about Edme as it is those who helped him:
It occurs to me that if an old woman and her neighbors could help a homeless boy, then I might be able to do the same. If true, think of what this means. Instead of a child growing up thinking they are worthless, they might see my love for them — even God’s love passed through me to them. And because of that love, what if they found their way to a great life. What if they kept making the world a better place long after I was gone?
Too many children have nothing to hope for out of life. They turn to reckless things that harm them instead of fulfilling their purpose. What if you and I could be that conduit of hope? By tutoring, by making sure they have food and clothes, by just being there when they get home from school, by inviting them to youth group, by making space for them in our lives and homes? Perhaps there would be less crime, less hate, less terrorism. After all, isn’t this how Jesus called us to live out his life from within us?
The thing about helping others is that we have an enormous opportunity to teach, as well as, help. The old woman and her neighbors not only provided for the boy, but they taught him that he should help others too.
Helping others may sound like a natural byproduct of being helped yourself, but it isn’t. I remember a history class I had as a student at Georgia Tech. It was on the development of cities in the United States. The takeaway from the class was that after the first wave of post war immigrants came to the US from other countries and assimilated, they would refuse to help the second wave of immigrants when they arrived. By that time, the first wave had “made it” and didn’t want to be burdened with these new immigrants – poor and needy as they were. Those whom others had helped refused to help the new arrivals. It didn’t matter if they were from Ireland, England, or Russia. The story was always the same. Human nature is to look out for one’s self – not for others.
We see this in our culture today. I heard on CNN that a study of Latinos who had “made it” in the United States were likely to support Trump’s proposal to round up all the illegals and send them home. I spoke recently to an African-American friend who lamented over successful African-Americans who refused to offer a hand up to their brothers and sisters who were struggling. And I watched closely once as a female executive looked the other way while women in her organization where being sexually harassed by another executive.
It isn’t a given that those who have made their way from pauper to prince (or princess) will reach out to those in need. In fact, it is often the opposite.
But Edme was different. He had been taught differently. His jewelry was so beautiful that not only did he land a job at the palace in Paris, but the jeweler who had taught him died and left him a fortune. Overnight he became very wealthy. Yet, he remembered what he had been taught. He lived in a modest house, sold everything he didn’t need, and spent his money seeking to alleviate the poverty of others. He did not care about the person’s political or religious affiliation. He helped no matter what. He visited prisons and hospitals. He supported widows and orphans.
As he went about helping others, he wore a “le petit manteau bleu” – a little blue coat. He wore it so often that people began to identify him by his coat. Even today in France, “le petit manteau bleu” is a designation given to someone who is a selfless benefactor.
Here is the birthplace of Edme Champion, “the little blue coat”, who organized the first soup kitchens for the poor in Paris.
This is the moral of this story: Be like the old woman who took Edme in and taught him to do likewise for others. Be like the neighbors who made sure he was educated. Be like the jeweler who taught him his craft. Be like Edme who learned well and put what he learned into action. Interestingly, I can find no evidence that any of his jewelry survived (if you know of some – I would love to see it!), but his good works did.
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