Paying it Forward in Community (Part 1)

Marble Target

Most of us have heard of the ‘pay it forward’ concept thanks to the 2000 movie. Hold that thought, and blend it with a centered-set perspective, i.e., Jesus at the center, with people on a journey – a pilgrimage –  toward him at various points, and you have a Celtic model of ministry.  Huh?

A Celtic model of ministry says, “Please, join us.  Sit with us, talk with us, dine with us. Let us get to know you, and you us.” It is an inviting model of hospitality (invite into vs allow into) where human stories meet compassion, hope and promise now, and for the future. It is found in those who’ve experienced a redemptive God; it is hoped for in those who desire ongoing transformation.  (Which, presumptively speaking, is all of us, correct?)

This is the focus we continually contemplate in desiring to meet needs, hoping that people move a little closer to understanding the heart of God for their lives.  As it happens, we are seeing more people (who’ve been helped) with a desire to return the favor.

Indeed. Jesus teaches us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. What?  And how does this inform our faith?  For Choices, we receive those we encounter as holding a smidgen, i.e., mustard seed of faith.  When pressed, most people self-identify as Christians, or at least of ‘believing in God/Jesus’.  So, we seek to enlarge understandings, by living into what is do-able: loving one another as he has loved us.  What does this look like – especially as we consider who is ‘eligible’ to serve as advocates in our community?  Is a mustard seed valuable?  (Ummmm….yes.)

Presence is a high-value commodity in our often too-busy world. We can easily forget to be fully present to, i.e., truly listening with our full attention to even those in our families – those we love the dearest.  When people come to see us at Choices, we’re giving them our full attention behind closed doors – a safe and compassionate place to air their stories, and for advocates to provide helpful feedback.  In being ‘merely’ present, we provide a gift not often part of our current culture.

Houses of hospitality. Dorothy Day ( and Peter Maurin) had houses of compassion she referred to as houses of hospitality. “They began these houses in the simplest way possible: renting a place, buying bread and butter, making coffee, preparing soup, and inviting the poor to eat.  Whenever possible they provided the homeless with a place to sleep; and most important, they sat with the poor, talking with them, offering friendship and affection.” (Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water, pp.163-164)

This past week I had a conversation with one of our advocates, who met with a young woman/mom who came in to talk about the crushing pain in her life.  Initially she had wanted to visit county behavioral health, but was told there would be a six week minimum wait for an appointment.  (We understand their dilemma – the county caseload is tremendous.) Someone referred her to Choices. When she was leaving she said with a hug, “Thank you so much for being here – I couldn’t wait six weeks.  When I come here, I know you care, you love me when you listen.”

Which is partly the point of these thoughts. Need is ever-present; volunteers are not. Or, are they? Maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong? Maybe we’ve set the bar a little high and made the task of loving others too complex.  Maybe we need to acknowledge people who are early in their journey?  Do we really want to make a decision whether someone is worthy enough to love another person?  We’re working to figure this out so that the helped can become the helpers.

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