Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Typical Day At the Center of Hope

There is no such thing as typical, but today seems like a good example of the variety of things I get to do and what the volunteers and I are exposed to as we work here.

8:30 am - I am "running late" (because of some before-school babysitting), and the line of people outside the door are giving me a hard time (joking... mostly) about not opening the door 'til now (even though we don't officially "open" until 9:30! they line up as early as 7, or even 6 in the summer).

Mr. G. follows me in the door as usual, talking my ear off while I try to get things started for the day. Sal, a talented Italian chef, brings in a tray of pizza-bread-somethin' for the volunteers, some of whom are already stocking shelves. They will inevitably come to me with multiple questions that I do not know the answer to (regarding food, my standard response is: "Ask Al" - if Al is not here, I tell them to do whatever they think is best). I lock myself in the back office to "listen to the messages" and things, but really my goal is a few moments of sanity before the day officially begins. I read some Scriptures, pick out a few verses of Psalm 96 to share as a devotional, and go greet some of the volunteers as they show up, including a new guy from a local church. Usually at this time I'm questioning, Do we have enough volunteers? Lately though, our problem has been having too many - a good problem to have - so I try to find the new guy a spot to work that isn't already filled. *This is where flexible volunteers make life easier: they don't mind jumping in if they're needed, or moving to a different position if they're not.

9:00-2:00ish - After devotions the morning gets rolling, and I happily scurry from front to back, person to person, trying to address everything and everyone that demands my attention. This includes:

-Attempting to discern if clients are trying to "scam" us (What's your name? Where do you live? Are you lying to me?)

-Finding that fine balance between mercy and justice (like when Mr. J. asks if he can cut line because his 70-some year-old mother is waiting in the car... he is #63 and we are on #5)

-Answering phone calls (Where are you located? Can you help me with my rent/utilities/medicine/car/grief?)

-Talking to walk-ins (People wanting to donate stuff, wanting to volunteer, wanting to talk to Renita - the latter is a large part of my job!)

-Listening to a client tattle (one of our workers may be stealing food... and I am left wondering, is he trustworthy?)

-Piles of paperwork (blah)

-Munching on trail mix

-Compiling information and planning for volunteer training sessions

-Computer games (uhhh...)

-Interacting with volunteers - like talking to Pat on the phone about who will be driving her to doctor visits and bringing her the groceries and things she needs; or getting to know a new volunteer, Glenn, who has lived in this area his whole life; or, when I mentioned to one volunteer that I've been meaning to get in touch with his wife, he stopped what he was doing and gave me a full update about their entire family - this is one of my favorite parts of the job!

-Receiving prayer requests, praying, and passing the word on

-Eating celery and carrots

-Referring people to other agencies, such as Catholic Charities (another big part of what I do)

-Smiling at the little children who occasionally come in with parents and really brighten the day for us

-Talking to clients (like Bob, a softspoken gentleman whom I talked with last week and also ran into at Mass the other night, and who is now telling me about his admitted need, and his desire, to read Scripture on a daily basis... what an encouraging conversation!)

-Laughing to myself about our crazy, wonderful volunteers... like Ms. J., claiming to be a lesbian and we're not sure if she meant it or only said it to get one of the guys to stop hitting on her... and Ron, who always feeds me all kind of flattery, saying "Be a good stepdaughter and get me something cold to drink!"

-Being concerned about volunteers, like Ms. P. who is worn out from taking care of her ill husband, and Ms. T., whom we suspect may be in an abusive relationship

2:00-2:30 - Things are quieting down now... the last stray people (who came in after we closed at 1:30 - some tenderhearted volunteer is always letting a few in) are getting their food, the shelves are being re-stocked, the waiting room is empty and needs a good cleaning. I eat an apple while finishing up some paperwork, organize notes and messages for Renita for tomorrow, gather my things from the office, then head up to the front desk area. Ron is finishing entering new people's information into the computer, Ora is washing the coffee pot. Oh, and one more thing before I go... I've been thinking of Charlene (former volunteer) lately, and even had a dream about her the other night... so I think I'll call her.
I already have a smile on my face, thinking of her warm and joyful personality, so I am surprised when she sounds very dull at first. After I say my name she perks up a little, as we talk she picks up excitement, and pretty soon she is being her normal blessin-the-Lord self. We talk about the two big things in my life that are new since we last saw each other - the boyfriend, and the peacemaking delegation. (And, not unlike many others, she makes connections between the two and wants to know, "What does he think of your trip?") She is full of encouragement for me. Though at one point she makes a comment about how if she was going on such a trip she'd be afraid, after I share my own confidence in God's hand at work in all this, she agrees with me and declares "I stand corrected!" She says lots of positive things about the trip and about me, including an amazing phrase that I won't fully remember but is something to the effect of "May God's peace be over, rooted in, and abundant through your life..."
We also talk about her life... how she is "Not where I want to be, but not where I was..." and how she "can say nothing but 'thank You' to the Lord," because even when things aren't going the way we want them to, we serve a God who is powerful and good. She thanks me for "being obedient to your dream" and calling at "the perfect time" and promises we'll see each other before my trip in March. It is utterly refreshing, and something in my spirit is burning brighter because of this time of sharing with a friend who, though not a close one, is a true friend in the Lord.
So now you know why I love my job, right?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Dear Grandma: This is why I'm willing to risk my life for the love of Christ"

Do you ever notice how when you're forced to simplify something (like when you're explaining it to children), it brings a sometimes-alarming clarity to your own thoughts and what you're trying to say? Well, tonight I was writing a note to send to my Grandma with my CPT support letter, and that happened. Try putting the biggest goal/hope/aspiration of your life into a paragraph or two to a relative or someone who may not know the ins-and-outs of your life but who loves you very much. That's what I did, and here's what I came up with:

Dear Grandma,
I'm sure you've heard that I am taking a trip to Israel & Palestine in March, and I just thought you might be wondering about it, so I'd like to share with you about the organization I'll be going with, and why I want to do something like this. It is certainly not an ordinary trip, and the organization is doing no ordinary work!
The enclosed support letter will explain more [...] but basically, because of my faith in Christ (Whose love and grace I consider to be the center and foundation of my entire life) and through what I have seen, read and studied, I have become convinced that first, God desires His people to seek peace for all people in His Creation, and second, that nonviolence is the only truly effective method to bring about peace in this world.
I know I am not perfect, and still have a lot to learn about nonviolence and love - and I seek to learn from the Best Teacher of all, Who set us an example on the cross. But I am excited about an opportunity to act on what I believe in. I know there are risks involved, but I also trust in God's protection and provision. I'm willing to take any risk for Him.
So, I hope you enjoy reading this letter and I hope you'll be proud of me as I try to live out the love of Christ to the people I encounter on my journeys in Israel and Palestine!
Love always,

Monday, January 19, 2009


Today I attended my first-ever nonviolent demonstration (outside of Olivet's campus, anyway), with CPT in Chicago. We walked in a silent "funeral procession" from Federal Plaza to the Boeing company headquarters, to protest how Boeing has been supplying and profiting from the bombs that Israel has used to attack Gaza (and how our government allows and aids this process). (Side note: This morning I was reading about the ceasefire between Israel & Gaza, and noticed that the ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths in the last few weeks was 100:1; of course, most of the former are civilians, the latter, soldiers.)

In our procession, some carried cardboard "coffins" (labeled: "A Father of Gaza," "A Mother of Gaza," and "A Child of Gaza"), some candles and photos, and some signs and banners (my mom's read: "Boeing bombs Kill Gazans," mine read: "Stop the Killing"). One person beat a drum (bucket) as we walked. We were escorted/followed by several Chicago police officers. We walked about seven blocks in the cold, silently carrying these testaments to the horrible deaths of innocent people, facing the inquisitive/compassionate/annoyed/confused looks/looks away/comments of Chicago pedestrians/bus riders/restaurant-goers/beggars. When we arrived at Boeing, we were denied entrance into the building, so we stood outside, laid the coffins and candles and pictures in front of the doors, recited a litany and sang songs. After a few minutes, the police informed us that, since the people at Boeing requested us to leave, we should leave the property or be arrested. At least two men were arrested; the rest of us moved to the public sidewalk and continued to sing and pray. The coffins were left on Boeing property... some of the company men came out and made sure the coffins and all the smaller items were put on the sidewalk. (Later, the police busted open one of the larger coffins and shoved the child-sized one inside, then they put it and the other one into a big police van which was then driven away.) By this time, our toes were frozen, so my mom and I headed back.

Before, during, and after all of this, at the Federal Plaza, there were songs, prayers and readings in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and in honor of his stance for peace and justice and against militarism, racism and materialism. It was the culmination of Camp Hope, a combined effort of many local churches and peace groups to call on President-elect (or, President tomorrow!) Obama to follow through on promises he made during his campaign by taking certain actions immediately upon being sworn into office, including: 1. Regarding Iraq, withdraw troops and cease combat operations; announce a new diplomatic initiative to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan. 2. Take all nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert. 3. Close Guantanamo, eliminate military tribunals and allow detainess access to the U.S. court system. 4. Suspend deportation of immigrants and stop raids at workplaces.

Today was interesting and exciting for me. It felt good to be part of something that is much deeper and older than myself, and something that holds true hope and promise for the future: the movement of people seeking peace through nonviolent means. I am as excited as ever about my participation with CPT and my upcoming travels to Israel/Palestine. And I continue to be inspired by ordinary people past and present living out extraordinary love.

And now, just for fun and because these are awesome, I leave you with some quotes (all by King) about nonviolence:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

(And my favorite:)

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.