It’s hard to believe I’m less than two weeks away from finishing my year as a Young Adult Volunteer. Before joining the program, I had a lot of expectations, one of which, was that a year is a very long time. In reality, I’m pretty sure someone hit the fast-forward button around November and I’ve stumbled through the past few months at lightning speed. I also had some pretty wild (and slightly unrealistic) expectations of what it might look like to work in ministry full time, basically almost for free. If anything, I think the best thing I could have done with my expectations upon arrival in Miami, was to forget them.
It’s difficult to really sum up the year in words, because it’s been such a rollercoaster of emotion, spirituality and relationships. There have been times of inconsolable frustration and other times of unparalleled joy. Some days, I’m the #1 cheerleader for the cause, and others have reminded me of hours spent at dead-end jobs counting the minutes until closing time. I think the latter is why I lost interest in blogging over the past few months; when my work began to feel like a job rather than some noble mission to save the world (who was I kidding?). I lost interest in sharing stories about my every day activities when mission work felt cheap and selective. I say this not to diminish the overall mission of the agency I’ve been working with, but rather to shed light on the fact that ministry doesn’t always mean feeling good about distributing expired canned goods and kissing babies. This year has taught me again and again that what we physically do matters less than the fact that we’re just simply present.
A few months ago, I went to the beach on my day off from work. Upon entering a public restroom next to the beach, I found a little girl standing outside the bathroom stall naked with her clothes scattered all over the wet, concrete floor. The initial scene horrified me, imagining the possibilities of what I had just encountered. I asked her if she needed help, and she replied that she could use some help getting her dress zipped. She struggled to slide into her underwear and clothes as her body was still wet from swimming and she was visibly flustered. As I helped zip up her dress, I noticed her belly button protruded several inches out of her body, which is an image that I still struggle to shake. Her clothes were dirty and soaked in the nastiness of a public bathroom floor, so we walked over to the sink to wash her hands. She handed me her bathing suit and asked me to wash it for her; a request I thought was odd for a 5 year old, until I noticed it reeked of urine and she may have been afraid of getting in trouble? She smiled, thanked me and left, leaving me feeling dazed and sad with so many questions. Where was her mother? Was anyone responsible for watching her? What kind of care has she received throughout her life, starting with a belly button that healed to be the size of an orange? And most of all, what would have happened if the wrong person had found her, as vulnerable as she was? My mind goes to dark places of how differently the situation could have turned out and what it meant to her in that moment that the person who found her showed kindness.
My role in this story is nominal. If I hadn’t been there, eventually, someone else would have come along or maybe she would have gotten dressed on her own. This story is less about me swooping in and more about valuing the opportunities we’re given to share love for others because we’re human and at some point, every single one of us has been just as vulnerable as she was. In that moment, I felt like I had very little to offer. I had no great wisdom, resources or answers, nor did I really get any indication that she was looking for that anyway. All I really had to offer her was my presence, and to maybe show her a little morsel of a world that cares for people without expectation of reciprocation or reward.
Throughout the year, I’ve encountered countless situations similar to that; situations that challenged me when I realized I cannot fix them, but rather only be a voice of reason, a smiling face or a warm body to hug. When people think of mission work, it is commonly thought of as going and doing, but what happens when we’re called to stay and just be? In my opinion, that’s when we learn the difference between being mission workers within a specific time frame, location or cause and living a life of ministry as a servant, where the boundaries are much more unclear and the answers that much more complicated. As I wrestle with that concept, I continue to also wrestle with where the Lord is leading me after my completion of the program. I realize this year has broken me for a world so much bigger than anything I’ve ever known. I also realize it’s not possible to jump back into a job as if this year hasn’t shattered the way I look at money, humanity, culture, and most importantly, myself.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s simply that I have so much to learn and that I’m so thankful for a God that chooses to use us.. in spite of ourselves.