My seminary experience and particularly my cross-cultural course have made me extra-aware of the ways we do mission and the consequences our mission has on those we attempt to serve. As far as how to figure out my impact during this trip, I’ve come back to this question many times as I attempt to discern the effects that my presence has had on the AfterHours community.
I believe this topic is difficult for several reasons. One reason is that I’m doing work that has already been set in motion by the community here at AfterHours, so, as a short-term intern, there isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to actual programming and procedure. A person performing short-term mission or service usually doesn’t have the opportunity to change the mission. I appreciate the mission at AfterHours and would not look to change it, but I realize I would have a difficult time enacting change if I wished to do so.
Since I’m joining others in a continued mission, it’s easy to assume that my presence and my actions aren’t greatly affecting anyone. However, I was reminded today that every interaction can have a significant impact.
Today at the park we handed out lunches to the entire line and had some left over, so we waited a bit since some days we will have friends show up a bit later and ask for lunch. We were down to the last lunch and a man approached and asked if we had anything left. I gave him a lunch and a water and he thanked me with deep gratitude. It seemed as though he was having a rough day but he continued to express his appreciation for our presence in the park. I engaged in typical conversation and without any prompting he told me that he had turned away from God and he began to cry. I learned about his struggles with alcohol and the difficulties within his marriage and his hopes for his wife and daughter. He asked me to pray with him and I held his arm and asked God for good things such as courage and hope and reconciliation. I had a difficult time holding back tears as I experienced this stranger’s sorrow and vulnerability. As he left I reminded him that he’s not alone and I hope to God that I wasn’t lying.
I appreciated the connection I had today but upon reflection I realize that in that simple moment, I held an abundance of undeserved power. In that conversation I represented AfterHours, but I also represented God. A stranger handed me his heartache and I could do with it as I pleased. I could have done so much harm. And I pray that I did more good than not.
We all do the best we can with what we have and what we know. However, I hope that we, the people who try to help others and attempt to follow Jesus, realize the infinite consequences of every helping action and every helping word. I pray that we realize our own customs and ideas and behaviors and morals and truths are not one-size-fits-all. And most of all I pray that God shows up to help a sister out, because damn, helping is heavy and I can’t handle that on my own.
Sometimes helping helps. Sometimes helping doesn’t help. Sometimes helping hurts. I believe the best way for us to figure out the difference is through our presence, our presence without agenda. We can’t assume need, and we cannot know need unless we honestly listen. As ministers, missionaries, followers of Jesus or people who simply want to do good, we must recognize our positions of power and work toward relationships that level the playing field and put us in the place of listener, learner, disciple. Because oh girl(!) do we have a lot to learn from those whom we think we can help!