In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, 22 area churches and a group of local businessmen came together to help relieve Seattle's destitute population, and Seattle's Union Gospel Mission was born. Seventy-six years later, I got to join this legacy of Christ's hope and His ability to change lives by going to a volunteer orientation meeting. If you ever find yourself tempted to believe the popular and pernicious lie that Christians are just a group of self-righteous, judgmental pricks with no heart for ministering to people in pain in this world, then you need to go to the Union Gospel Mission in your town and meet the Christians on staff who have given their life's work to doing just that.
It is not glamorous work. I can only imagine that the pay is not great. But the retirement plan cannot be beat.
So, I went to the orientation at the Women and Children's Shelter in Seattle's International District. I spent the entire meeting trying to wipe the tears surreptitiously from my eyes, because I didn't want to seem like a total weenie. But, everything there seemed to freshen the flow. My eyes drank in -- through a watery veil -- scenes that were foreign to my pampered, suburban sensibilities, but left me richer by their witness:
The woman who gave her testimony about how she had come in as a heroin addict -- fresh from jail -- eight years before and was now clean and sober and working at the Mission to help other women learn the same lesson of Christ's peace that had changed her life.
The clean, but shabby, halls and rooms which came to be for countless women and children in their hour of trouble not only a refuge, but a small glimpse of what's in store in their Father's house.
The room of cast-off, unfashionable clothing donated to the Mission, that yet represented the first step in a new start for women at the end of their human strength.
It was the people who affected me the most. The orientation leader was a woman of warmth and gentleness who still seemed in awe of the Mission for which she worked. The big-eyed, smiling children scampered down the hallways, their laughter echoing in the rafters of the ancient building. The few program women we saw had eyes that held a mixture of pain and relief, but also a quiet dignity that whispered promises of their renewal. And the volunteers . . .
Our packed orientation room held a group that was cheerful, eager, compassionate and strong. I was mesmerized by the people of goodwill and servant hearts surrounding me. Then, it kind of dawned on me: Hey! I'm here, too. I get to be a part of this holy work. I get to join in with this wonderful organization and learn better how to be Christ's hands and feet in a hurting world. I felt so undeserving of this opportunity that I was shaking and longed to fall to my knees in gratitude. But, that would have been disruptive.
So, I just started crying some more.
I can hardly wait to get out into the mission field. It's right in my backyard.