Victoria McCullough, Client Services Operator Sin Barreras/Without Barriers Charlottesville, Virginia
Maya Angelou said “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
What makes love so powerful? I believe that love listens beyond differences. Love lingers after meetings in the parking lot. Love prefers to build bridges rather than barriers. Last September, I met Victoria who helps Spanish and English-speaking people in the community by listening, lingering, and building bridges. She opened my eyes to the barriers many families face due to language, culture, and custom.
During my mission conversations with over one hundred people, I noticed how a person’s face began to glow with joy and excitement as they talked about one or more missions in their life. During these moments, the person spoke with conviction and passion. I began to watch and wait to see when mission appeared on a person’s face rather than revealed only in their words. Nearly half of the mission conversations were with individuals who worked at non-profit agencies. Their work expanded their understanding of mission beyond an individual perspective and captured the vision of the organization’s impact in the community as well.
Fourteen of the mission conversations were with strangers where I hoped that service would unite our stories.Victoria McCullough and Javier Raudales graciously accepted my invitation for coffee and a mission conversation. Victoria and Javier are both on staff at the non-profit Sin Barreras, which provides services, workshops, and education to both Spanish and English-speaking communities. Also, the organization offers the opportunity for their clients to participate in advocacy and social initiatives for local and national reform.
Halfway through the conversation with Victoria and Javier, I wondered if joy would appear as we attempted to get to know one another for the first time and cross many barriers such as differences in hometowns, cultures, and faiths.
Victoria’s face began to glow as she talked about her dad and connections with neighbors. She described simple requests from neighbors such as filling out job applications. Other requests presented more of a challenge for her. One morning a woman called with a neighborhood concern. The woman desired a stop sign in the neighborhood to protect the children playing in front of her house. After listening to the concern, Victoria called the city with the woman's request. Later that week, Victoria and the woman filled out an application together and a stop sign was installed in the neighborhood.
Later in our conversation, Victoria recalled memories about her dad who lived in Miami. She said,
Dad really connected with people. He was passionate about engagement with people. He has been a good role model to follow when I try to listen to a person and be patient. He has shaped a lot of who I am today.
Victoria reminded me of Ruth in the Bible with her patient love shown toward neighbors in need. Also, during our conversation, like the book of Ruth, God was hardly mentioned in the dialogue. Yet, I felt God's loving presence abiding with us in the coffee shop. I felt God's love listening despite our differences and lingering after our meeting in the parking lot. Once love gains priority in our lives, with God’s help, I believe barriers become bridges and excuses transform into possibilities.
One of my favorite verses in the Message version of the Bible is John 1:14; "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." Whenever I read this verse, I imagine God's Love moving into the neighborhood in human form through Jesus of Nazareth. As Christians, we do not follow a concept, we follow a God who humbled Himself to become one of us, emptied Himself to die on a cross, and rose to new life promising that nothing could separate us from His love, not even death.
Love continues to move in our lives and our neighborhoods. This weekend, take a simple step in mission by helping neighbors overcome barriers in their life with God's love leading the way.
Rev. April H. Cranford