Published: August 29, 2012
God speaks to her. She goes to sleep at night and by morning he tells her what he wants her to do. He told her to transform that empty apartment building across the street. He told her to clear the field where that little girl got raped. And he told her to take all those homeless people and prostitutes into her own home.
"I speak to you just like he speaks to me," says Kathina Carey. "If you truly believe and trust in God, he's going to talk to you. It'll be just like somebody sitting beside you."
The 50-year-old lives on Goethe at McClellan on the city's east side in a crumbling area of waist-high fields and long-empty houses. This is a very old neighborhood, and her roots here run deep. Her great-great-grandmother lived just houses from where Carey does now, back when nearby Mack was a dirt road and horses trotted past their street. Her great-grandmother lived on the block too, as did her grandmother, and her mother after that. It's been Carey's neighborhood all her life, and she made it her duty to care for those in it.
"The prostitutes didn't have nowhere to stay or eat or none of that, so I just started asking God what to do, so they just started coming to my house one by one, needing clothes or showers," Carey says.
But her guests have taken over her home. Strangers come and go at will and she lets them, despite the fact that they sometimes rob her blind or get in booze-fueled fights on her property, despite the fact that she shares the home with two 11-year-old sons and a 14-year-old one, and until recently a husband who became so overwhelmed by the invasion that he moved out, back to his parents' house.
"He don't want to deal with the people off the street," she says. "He thinks I'm crazy. My children are so upset because they don't have the same kind of love that I have for Jesus and people, and I've opened my house to people to the point where just strangers come now, and they really get upset sometimes because most of them be drug users and prostitutes and homeless people."
As she speaks, they swarm in the street around her. Several are seated under the shade of a tree in an empty field, drinking from brown bags. Young men loiter on the street corner. Neighbors wander over to say hi and hang out in her yard, because they know they always can.
Because Kat, as they call her, will never say no to anyone. If someone wants money, she gives it to them. If they're hungry, she gives them food. And if they want to treat her home as their own, she lets them. Without articulating it, she's trying to live a life of pure Christianity, of truly selfless giving of everything she has. Even if it brings harm to her.
"I was brought up in the church and I was taught to serve the people, because that was an important part of what Christ did, and in order to get in the kingdom of heaven you must, in God's light, walk the way that Jesus thought the Earth should come together," she says in her dreamy, lilting voice. "You must do some of those things in order to get into heaven." It wasn't long before God's words began visibly changing this block.
One night, not long ago, God revealed to her his biggest task yet. She began receiving visions of beautiful scenes from the Bible, and she was told to display these images to this fallen neighborhood. Suddenly, the drab apartment building on the corner was shining forth with brightly colored tableaus. And though these works are her doing, she insists they're not really her doing.
"I drew the pictures how God gave them to me," she says. "I go to bed at night and I pray. I ask God to show me what to do the next day. And he does."
God has been telling her things that needed doing in her neighborhood for a while now.
He inspired her to start mowing the grass on the empty lots within her sight, some nearly a block away. She cleared the alley of all the stray trees growing from the fence line. She made a community park out of the empty corner lot where a half-dozen homes once stood. It's got flowerbeds, lanterns hanging rustically from tree branches, and in the middle is the foundation of a pond that has yet to be finished.
Not long ago, the broken chunks of a long-gone home's foundation were scattered on it, making it impossible to mow, and no matter how many times she called the city for help in clearing them, she says, she got little response.
Then, one day, word spread that a little girl had been dragged there and raped in the tall grass growing around all those rocks.
When Carey heard the news she was so angry, all she could think to do was grab a shovel and start furiously digging a hole in the middle of the lot, as if to single-handedly wipe clear the stain of the sin that just occurred there.
"Before I knew it, I was in a hole this big," she says, spreading her arms wide. "I was just putting all the anger I had into that hole, and when I got up the next morning the Lord said, 'I'm gonna show you what to do with that hole.' He took me over to them bricks over there and I put those bricks around in a circle, and that's how that pond got started."
She also created a pond in front of her house, with fish swimming in it and wildflowers growing around it, making her yard an island of beauty on her weedy street. Soon, people started instinctively throwing coins into the water and making wishful prayers, like a form of folk magic. And just as instinctively, some of the same people started helping themselves to that money in the pond. Although she doesn't care about the money so much, Carey does draw a line when it comes to people's prayers.
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