Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting Started


Photo by Sandy Hoppenrath
I belong to a church that believes in putting words into action.  Shane Claiborne, popular author on justice issues states, “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.”   
Pastor Troy Hoppenrath of Kaleo Covenant Church takes this quote seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that his new church will only hold traditional Sunday worship 3 weeks per month.  On that 4th Sunday, Kaleo will worship by serving together in the local community.  For most of us, helping the less fortunate once a month is stretching out of our comfort zone.  For all of us, we know that we need to follow Christ’s call to serve.   
Yesterday we volunteered as a church with NCompass Ministry’s 3rd Annual Christmas Festival for the Homeless.  We met under the west side of the Morrison Bridge and were given a list of jobs available:  working the raffle for sleeping bags and blankets, sitting at the prayer table for those who came to pray, painting fingernails for women (or men - no judgement) who needed a boost in color, feeding hamburgers and potato salad to the masses, organizing the hundreds of bags of clothing donations, and playing “personal shopper” to each person that needed jeans or a coat.  
We volunteered as a family, but took different jobs.  Our girls worked with our pastor’s daughters as beauticians for the day.  I’m not sure the patrons getting their nails painted received the most professional manicures available, but our children participated in good works and conversation.
My husband, Edd, and I worked the clothing tables.  Specifically, pants.  When we arrived at 10:30 that morning, clothes were being separated by item, resulting in one table piled sky high with jeans, sweats, shorts, women’s linen pants from the 80’s, flannel pajama bottoms, pink polyester size 16s, and two pairs of Seven for All Mankind.  
Photo by Sandy Hoppenrath
After 15 minutes of trying to assist men looking for a size 34x32 or women looking for a yoga pant in that pile of mayhem, Edd couldn’t take it.  The man who thrives on order needed to organize that mess!  As people continued to dig through the items, Edd and I found another table and separated the pants by gender.  Then by size.  Soon the “personal shoppers” could arrive, give us a size, and within 60 seconds they had a new-to-them pair of pants.  Given the chance next year, I’m sure Edd will come up with 10 corporate strategies on how to get the homeless outfitted in under 5 minutes.  
The personalities of those needing help were fascinating to observe.  Some women would come to me grateful for clothes to keep them warm.  Some were picky - “Ummm, I would prefer a dark wash jean,” or “They are soft, but I don’t like that shade of red.”  One woman did not heed my advice on how high-waisted jeans might not be the best for her pregnant daughter.  My favorite was the guy in his 20’s hanging around my table.  After I explained they were women’s pants he said, “As long as they cover my ass, I don’t care what kind they are.”  Good point, sir.
Part of my experiment for 2012 will be to notice if helping others on a weekly basis will bring more compassion to my heart.  As I was serving yesterday, I was busy enough that I didn’t focus on my surroundings.  Instead I concentrated on the task at hand.  While I knew I was providing a service, I also knew that by not engaging in deep conversation there would be little pull on my heart-strings.  
One crucial aspect of this blog is honesty.  I am not searching for a halo or wings.  Judging by my feelings yesterday, I have a lot of work to do in order to change my critical attitude.  Part of me was expecting to feel extra benevolent after my hours with the homeless.  Rather, after the event was over, we gathered our things and headed to an early dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery.  The walk to the car afterward was chilly, so we stopped in at Starbucks and paid $8.40 for two coffee drinks.  I’m not sure any lesson was learned. 
As we were leaving the festival, one of the women we served approached Edd and I with a huge bear hug.  She asked to pray, so the 3 of us grabbed hands to form a small circle.  Instead of asking God for more food or shelter, she thanked Jesus for sending us to help that day.  Yes, I felt guilty because instead of my mind being on prayer, other thoughts consumed me; “Woman, what did you do to get here?” or more embarrassingly, “Are you really open to Jesus or are you saying this just to make us feel that our time was worth something?”  
Like I said, I’m not proud of my cynicism.  And I admit to my selfish nature.  But my hope is that by this time next year, I can diminish the selfishness and follow Christ’s example to have the “nature of a servant." (Philippians 2:7)

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