As you may know, a large part of our Outreach ministry stems from Urban Service Camps. Volunteer groups from across the country who take time out of their schedules to come to Old First and participate in service projects.
Not only do these projects provide a lens into the injustice that so many in our city face, but moreover, provide an invitation for volunteers to reflect on their experiences.
While reflections are a large component of our Urban Service Camp ministry, their purpose lasts a lifetime. Contemplating on injustice mixed with faith, and the act of kindness — indeed gives reason for pause, deliberation and prayer.
Below are reflections from three members of The Old Meeting House, a Service Camp who travelled from Vermont to participate in our Outreach ministry from June 17th-June 24th.
A Reflection from Katie on Sunday Breakfast Ministry
James was a man that I met at Sunday Breakfast who personified Gods love to me. After we served the meal and were cleaning up James and I had a brief conversation – Hello. How are you? What’s your name? – but we had a conversation with our eyes that went so much deeper than those words. We saw each other, I mean really saw each other. He said to me…”keep that smile Katie, it is beautiful.” I said “you too James.” It was a gift. It had been a long, hard, hot day and I needed to hear those words at that moment for so many reasons. And isn’t it just so, I was there to lend a helping hand and yet, as I’m convinced God often does, the tables were turned and I was the one to receive the help I needed that day. These words were not profound. Their utterance would not change the course of human history, but they were kind, they were heartfelt and there is no doubt they were words from God, passed through to me and James to say to each other. God’s love made real through each other. There were many moments like this in Philadelphia. Where the world seemed to crack wide open and our differences faded away and there it was – God’s love in the world for anyone willing to take a step towards it. Amen.
A reflection while at Helping Hands
…As we got off the subway and headed on our short walk to our destination, I think we were all slightly dazed by our surroundings. Buildings were abandoned, some falling down, there were vacant lots and trash scattered everywhere…. as we moved closer to our destination, we came upon a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. I could see the faster part of the crew move past him; it looked as though there may have been some kind of exchange, but I wasn’t sure. Then the solo walker went by at which point the man was standing up and clearly making some kind of overture toward her. As the third group approached this man, he came straight at us. Not entirely sure what his planned approach was about, I said “hi, how are you?” His response was “HOW AM I?” as he urinated all over the front of me. I was in shock. I kept moving as quickly as I could. I knew the church we were headed to was right around the corner and I could take refuge there and collect my wits. However, when we turned the corner the church with an abandoned lot on either side, about 40 people sitting on the curb in front of it and was surrounded by a chain link fence with razor wire at the top; it did not appear to be the refuge I was hoping for. We sat through a worship service with clients, we helped serve and clean up after the meal. We had a brief conversation with the minister that ran this It was hot, I was going through the motions still wearing my soiled clothes not letting myself go to deep, yet.
I was torn about whether or not to tell you all this tale. I was afraid it was too sensational, you might hear the urination part of the story and not remember anything else. It seemed utterly unfair to boil down a person’s life to one unfortunate encounter. What was his story? What lead him to make that particular choice that day? Answers I would love to have and knew I had no chance of getting. So I made myself keep mulling this encounter over in my mind. Why had it happened, what had we done, what could we have done differently? I began to consider what our walking by might have felt like to this man; we had, in effect, walked unwelcome through his home, not once, but three times. Something that would have put any of us on edge. This was a helpful way to frame the encounter, but I felt like there was another take away that I was missing. I knew it felt profound, like it would be one of the things I would never forget about the trip. But it wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t moving, I wasn’t helping anyone it that particular exchange, it was hard, it was ugly and it made me feel beaten down. Eventually I came upon a something. I’m not sure it will resonate for you, but what I stumbled upon for myself was that God was asking me to do something, love the unlovable… Can you do that Kate? Not just for this man, but for yourself too. Imagine that. Amen.
Words of Reflection from Anna
I think the most valuable thing I learned on this trip is rather cliché. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Now, that’s not to say that you should walk up to someone who is clearly dangerous without backup, that’s just stupid. But some of the most wonderful people I met on this trip I would have passed by if I saw them in the context of my life. For example, I met an amazing and kind man named Carl at Face to Face and later saw him at Sunday Breakfast. He was black with a scraggly blond beard and sunglasses, adorned in torn and worn clothes. If I had seen him on the street of my life I may have passed him by, assumed he was a drug addict or a criminal. In reality he is a kind man with a family and a life, about to go into senior living, having been a student, a construction worker, a gang member, a father, a grandfather. Thanks to your organization I took a chance and talked to him. I felt safe enough to get to know him and learn his story. I will always be grateful for that. Thank you.