Mission as a Volunteer: Welcoming Strangers
In December of 2017, the church where I serve as pastor hosted our community's thermal shelter. I walked into the social hall, wrote my name under the column marked Volunteer, and placed a Hello name tag on the upper portion of my left chest. My eyes watched the social hall transform into a bedroom for neighbors without homes.
The first night at the shelter, I noticed a guest with long, straight hair and a gentle demeanor. Mary (not her real name) spoke softly at the dinner table and knitted on her bed in the evening. After her weeklong stay at our church, she handed me a thank you card for the congregation, which included words of gratitude and a donation of folded one-dollar bills:
The week was so nice, restful, with fun moments. Thanks for bringing us some Christmas cheer and inviting us to the service. Thanks for making your efforts personally to meet the needs of us at this time, a task that wasn't yours. You are saving some lives in the difference made. I'm sure God above all sees this and will not forget. I hope you and your families are blessed and that you will enjoy your Christmas times this year too. Here is a small offering from a little extra I have right now for all the toilet paper and second helpings. Just a little gesture, I know. Thanks again.
I stayed connected with Mary throughout December as the thermal shelter rotated between churches in the community. At the shelter, guests arrived in the evenings by 6 p.m. and were expected to leave the building by 8 a.m. the following morning. I offered Mary rides from the rural churches to her day spot in the city. Most mornings, the car rides were just the two of us. Sometimes, my daughters and our dog, Daffy, rode with us as well. As we traveled the roads together, I discovered more and more about Mary's story, such as her hometown, family, faith, and past employment. I was intrigued by her previous work of professionally cleaning houses and businesses, especially with thoughts of my dirty house in the back of my mind. The next morning, I asked if I could pay her to clean my house. She agreed to work for minimum wage.
The following week, I picked up Mary from a neighboring church and brought her to my home. She inspected the rooms and asked questions about the cleaning tasks. A meticulous housekeeper, she cleaned the woodwork on my dresser with a toothbrush. I invited Mary into my home on cold non-cleaning days, but she declined. As seasons changed, Mary's habits changed as well. When the thermal shelter ended, she no longer needed rides, and we soon lost touch with each other.
The car rides and house cleaning provided time with Mary for faith conversations and ongoing support during a difficult season in her life. Welcoming a stranger into the home is not always an option. However, whenever the heart, mind, and spirit align with one another toward welcoming a stranger into the home, it is worth the risk. Mary made a lasting impression upon my life and my family as well. I noticed this impact when our family members changed their spoken prayer concerns from praying for the homeless to praying by name for people without homes.
The next time you place a Hello name badge on your shirt and sign in as a volunteer, consider moving your volunteer work toward mission work. This weekend, take a simple step in mission by walking in the door as a volunteer and leaving as a missionary.
Blessings, Rev. April H. Cranford
Reflect on the last time you welcomed a stranger into your home.
Identify where volunteer work could move to mission work in your life.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7