Thursday, February 21, 2008

the shelter

I volunteered this week at the temporary homeless shelter that our church is hosting. I was there on Wednesday and Thursday morning, from 6 - 8am. I was surprised when I arrived Wednesday morning, to find the parking lot filled with cars. Surely there couldn't be that many people at the shelter at this time? It turns out that the Korean congregation that shares our church holds a service of worship every morning at 5:45am. That's something I did not know.

At 6am, at the shelter, our guests are just waking up. My job, along with 4 other volunteers, is to help serve breakfast, distribute bag lunches and put away beds and clean the church after the guests have left for the day. I felt curious, and nervous and worried that I wouldn't know what to say or do. How would these people feel, who had spent the night in our church? How could I be with them in a way that would convey my respect for them, and help them feel really welcome and appreciated? Would they be embarrassed? discouraged? fearful? Would I? Well, yes to all of that. But it turned out to be more like any other social meeting situation with people I don't know than I ever could have imagined.

So we got breakfast served. Some of the conversation was easy, "how are you?" "did you sleep okay?" "Would you like sausages?" "More juice?" was all easy. What was less comfortable was, "May I share this table with you?" "Hi, my name is Sue." It felt awkward. Luckily, some of our guests were willing to talk - ordinary small talk about favourite breakfast foods, and serious conversation about life without a fixed address. Mostly, we tried our best, on both sides, I think, to bridge some of that divide between us with the cars and houses, and them with the knapsacks, tents and tired faces. We are all people living in the same world, separated by fate, luck, circumstances. This chance to share a bit of our extra with those who can use it, even temporarily, is an opportunity to understand one another better, and to know ourselves in a new way.

We're not evangelizing at the shelter. Tim, our minister, says that Jesus just fed people a lot of the time. That's all. Shelter time is an expression of our faith in action. That's enough. I am thankful every day for this opportunity. My spirit is nourished without an out-loud prayer or an organized lesson. Helping at the shelter is an experience of faith and love beyond any that can be read or told or memorized.

After our guests left, I breathed out a big breath of gratitude and relief. This is going to be good. It will go by too quickly. I hope that I'll gain from it as much as I can, and also that I'll give to it just the same. I tiptoed upstairs to the church office, behind the sanctuary. It was 7am. The Korean service was still underway. I could see that the light was dim - probably just a few candles. Two voices sang a sad and loving song in a language I did not understand. The voices wove around each other, rising and falling, on and on. I couldn't know what they were saying but I felt a yearning and a reverence in their song, like reaching for something that you can only pray you'll find.

I stood in the stillness and listened.

This has been a time of new discoveries. I am blessed.

question: did you ever do something that made you feel things in a different way?

mompoet - finder of treasures in unexpected places

1 comment:

Muhd Imran said...

That is wonderful of you. It is so unfortunate to somehow fall into the trap of homelessness.

All have the desire to not give up and move forward in life, one day at a time until they can get on their feet again, break the poverty cycle somehow... but until then, there are beautiful people like you to help them one step at a time.

Not as reverent as you've experienced, but nonetheless divine when I found a spot in nature. A 5 minutes ride on my bike to a serene natural setting to escape for a while.

We are blessed people and I am truly grateful for this life with family and home.

Thanks for sharing this with everyone.