CENTRAL POINT — As a bus driver and hairdresser, Scott and Joyce Eason have had plenty of chances to listen as others unburden themselves of life’s struggles.

The salt of the earth Catholic couple in southern Oregon has made a ministry of lending an ear.

People of the bus

The gregarious Scott was promoted from driving to management at Rogue Valley Transit 12 years ago. But the people he met on his routes starting in 1996 still remember him.

Scott, 60, now oversees customer service. He knows better than almost anyone why people ride the bus. Some cannot afford a car. Others ride on ecological principle, hoping to reduce carbon emissions. Some are elders or disabled. Scott thinks of many bus riders as the unjustly forgotten of society, the kind of people Jesus seemed to love.

He was not sure at first. The assembly of riders seemed taxing. But then his perspective changed, maybe as his faith developed.

“You start to change your focus from seeing just people in general to seeing more of an individual human being,” Scott said. “What starts to happen is, you care. You see some riders every day. You share stories.”

Scott is aware that Pope Francis, as an archbishop in Argentina, was a bus and train rider who traveled with the regular folk. Now the pope encourages everyone to encounter those on the margins.

‘Fruits of interaction’

In his driving days, Scott met a painfully shy girl from Thailand who had been adopted by a local family. He spoke with her frequently, just curious about her life. He saw her struggle with a new culture but rejoiced as slowly she become acclimated.

Now in her 40s, the woman leads youth classes at Shepherd of the Valley. She is a church usher and sponsors those who want to become Catholic. She visits the Easons frequently and even does projects in Scott’s woodshop.

“We are great friends,” Scott said.

On occasion, he meets other former riders who were deeply poor but who have returned to school, landed a job or kept babies they were planning to abort or give up for adoption. They thank Scott for taking the time to talk to them.

“You see the fruits of an interaction that you thought was just another day at work,” Scott says. “It’s just absolutely wonderful. You are so humbled.”

Even though he is out of the driver’s seat, people still feel drawn to talk to Scott. This Lent, a fellow employee wanted to discuss her spiritual life. The session continued long after work hours and Scott missed a church function — willingly.

“It’s not something you expect to do in the workplace,” he explained. “But what better example is there of God having a plan for working things out for someone?”

House of hospitality

For 40 years, Joyce, 66, has run a beauty shop in her house. Scott built her an updated facility. She thinks of the work in part as a ministry to older women who trust her implicitly and tell her about their lives. She has raised her prices only twice in four decades and has a loyal following.

The couple is known for hospitality, opening their house liberally to those who are visiting Shepherd of the Valley. A troupe of youth ministers found a home with the Easons, as did Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland.

“Providing hospitality has always been a sign of a mature civilization,” said Cato. “In the Old Testament, welcoming the stranger is a manifestation of living one’s faith. And you never know when the stranger you welcome is an angel. I was welcomed by strangers and while we were sitting around talking, Joyce matter-of-factly declares that the bus service that Scott manages is critical because choosing to ride a bus, and not in a car, gives people the opportunity to protect our environment and care for creation. I went, ‘Wow, she’s gets it!’”

The Easons have a large kitchen table where visitors sit and speak about their lives and big ideas.

“It is neat to have them come share with us,” said Scott.

Her faith drew him

Joyce has lived in Central Point for 45 years, Scott for 33. A native of Southern California, he served in the U.S. Army in the early 1980s, posted in Korea. He is proud of the military work and recalls his colleagues gratefully.

Joyce, a native of Washington state, moved to California as a young woman, wed, and had a child. When her son was 5, her husband abandoned the family. Then she met Scott, a former soldier who exuded stability. The two have been married for 31 years.

Scott was not Catholic in the early years of marriage. He was leery of religion in general. He grew up Presbyterian, and his father had an affair with the church organist. The only Catholics he knew were the neighborhood toughs who beat him up.

But within a few years of being married, he discerned that Joyce’s peace and strength came in large part from her beliefs. The two spoke about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, formation for those who want to become Catholic.

Augustinian Father Jim Clifford, pastor in Central Point in the early 1990s, saw what was happening and wrote a warm letter asking Scott if he wanted to know more about Joyce’s faith. He was in.

At the same time, Joyce started a long ministry in RCIA, again listening to many life stories and telling her own.

“That’s my passion. I love sharing my faith with others,” she said. “They are my buddies. The people who come through RCIA have this burning in their gut to become Catholic or learn more about Jesus. That’s where it’s at. I just love it.”

Building bridges

Scott’s bus operating skills have come in handy at church. He drives youths to an annual conference each summer, and, again, they talk to him.

“Thirteen hours in a bus with a bunch of teenage kids? Uh, no,” he said, describing his initial thoughts about the task. “But you keep getting a little twinge saying just do it, just do it. And it has really been a blessing.”

The Easons are leaders in ACTS (Adoration Community Theology Service), a Catholic program that aims to develop community and further evangelization. They also are bridge builders between cultures at their parish. The couple have felt distress over the separation of Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Catholics. They advocate for more shared events while doing what they say is vital — making personal connections.

That has happened most fruitfully through ACTS, where Hispanics and Anglos sit down at the same table to deepen their faith and decide how to live it out. At the start, Scott was afraid he would not be able to communicate with Spanish speakers in the program.

“But by end, language was not a barrier. The barrier was human fear, and we overcame that,” he said. “Our faith teaches us to work together and pray together. There is a rich culture there we really enjoy. It can come together without anyone losing their culture.”

When Joyce meets Hispanic women from her ACTS group on the street, everyone laughs and gives hugs. “They are my sisters in Christ,” she said.