By Kristen Johnson
Although I have been blessed to be able to serve at several food banks, food drives, and collection drives, I have never been able to actually serve a meal to people in need until last night. My new Church hosts a weekly dinner called “Sharing the Bounty” in which anyone in need can come in for a free hot meal. It was simultaneously the most uplifting and most heart wrenching experience of my lifetime. Luckily, God provided the uplifting part of things and I absolutely cannot wait until next week to go and serve again.
It’s important first and foremost to remember why it is we serve and why it is so important to participate in events of these kinds. It’s important because Jesus insisted repeatedly we serve our neighbors. It is, in fact, one of the greatest commandments – to love our neighbors. It’s also important because it’s just plain the right thing to do. People are in need and it is our responsibility as Christians to provide their needs.
I have a few tips for anyone who would like to work volunteering in a community dinner, homeless soup kitchen, etc. My first tip is – yes, do it! You will be rewarded thousands of times above and beyond any benefit you are providing to people in need.
Tip #1: You will be shocked and saddened to find that there are so many people in need in your own neighborhood and you will be shocked at the way they behave as though they are embarrassed or hiding. I have never in my life encountered such gracious people. We served over 80 meals to people who did nothing but stand in line politely, thank every one of us profusely, wait patiently, and then quietly converse with one another and with the volunteers. Loneliness is the human condition and people in need are as lonely as anyone else. We need to fill their needs, but they are definitely filling our need to serve and to have companionship.
Tip #2: It’s heartbreaking to notice that almost everyone in the room is “working poor” – meaning that they have obviously been working hard at whatever it is they do all day and they are tired. Knowing that I can drive down the street to a grocery store and buy whatever I want to whenever I want to is incredibly humbling. These people need our time and our energy and our love. They don’t need pity. One look at work-hardened hands can remind us of our own need to love and support people who work hard, and still don’t have enough to make ends meet. (I spent most of the night wishing that Donald Trump would go to a dinner like this one. After all, his party consistently wants to cut any benefits the working poor have, time after time after time.) These people are not “freeloaders” – they simply can’t make enough to get by because of little things like arguments over living wages.
Tip #3: Save your tears for later. (Yes, I cried later when I told my husband about this experience.) There isn’t any need for tears, but watching children line up with their families will get you in the gut. Focusing on the goal – serving without any judgments is the goal. Meeting people where they are and with what they need is the goal. Refusing to wonder about decisions that led to homelessness or drug abuse (also obvious in this group) – is completely not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to show compassion, love, and friendship to any and all.
Tip #4: Get ready to sign up to volunteer again. You will be so filled with a spirit of compassion and goodwill that you won’t be able to sleep. (No kidding – I couldn’t stop thinking about all the wonderful people I was blessed to be blessed by last night that I couldn’t sleep!) Get ready for your blessing basket to be overfilled. You haven’t served anyone – they have served you.
Volunteer. Serve. Give. Live Kindness. Live Compassion. Live Peace.
Matthew 23:11 (NRSV): The greatest among you will be your servant.
Serve all with love.
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