A Reflection by Sue Webber
One of our post communion prayers says: “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord”… For me the “work” is activity that is in addition to my chosen profession as a Systems Analyst. I interpret being a “witness” as a demonstration or reflection of Jesus’s love to other people. The way I have chosen to witness this love has been through volunteering.
Volunteering can be viewed as an altruistic activity, but I have found that I have gained more than I have given. There have been two specific volunteer opportunities that I feel have helped me understand God and how he speaks to us and through us. One of those opportunities was volunteering on a domestic abuse hotline and the other was on a trip to Ethiopia with Habitat for Humanity.
Fairfax County operates a hotline for victims of domestic violence. I volunteered weekly, answering calls on overnight shifts and I also served as a facilitator of a support group. After assessing whether the caller was in immediate danger, my primary responsibility was to listen, reflect back what they were feeling, provide information about the characteristics of abusive relationships and provide referrals for counseling or other services. My role was not to give advice about whether a person should remain or leave an abusive relationship.
Being the facilitator of a support group was particularly fulfilling because it gave me the opportunity to watch individuals grow in strength and confidence over time. Their strength and confidence was gained through the love and support they received from other members of the group and through the work they did as individuals. Self-reflection was a big part of the work they did. Self-reflection involves getting in touch with your inner voice or that part of you which enables you to hear and connect to God. Helping others develop a practice of positive self-reflection helped strengthen my own practice of reflection. This enabled me to move beyond my own feelings of self doubt and shame and to accept the unconditional love of God.
I traveled to Ethiopia to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. I spent a week building stucco homes in Dese, a town about 150 miles north of Addis Ababa. We dug foundations, sealed wood frames with tar and mixed cement alongside members of the community. We managed to work cooperatively even though we were separated by both culture and language. Each day we were greeted enthusiastically by the children of the community and the adults generously shared their coffee with us (a very valuable and symbolic commodity in Ethiopia).
I was particularly struck by the children of Dese. They were much like children here, running and playing games together, but the toys that they had were different than the toys that children in our community have. Tireless bicycle wheel rims were toys; children joyfully spinning them down the road with a stick. They played endless games of soccer with balls that were half deflated. Watching them I realized that they were far richer than I was. Their lives were not easy or carefree, but their gratitude for the things that they had and the joy that they experienced in the present moment were inspirational to me. Jesus’s words: “. . . it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” were manifested in front of me. Relative to them, I was materially rich and they were closer to the kingdom of God than I had ever been in my life.
I will continue to volunteer as much as I can. I know that God has many more lessons to share with me.