An Ordinary Meal
February 10, 2011
By Kat Teraji
"In the way of God, thoughts count for little, love does everything. And it is not necessary," he continued, "to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, Who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God." – Brother Lawrence, who did kitchen clean-up in a monastery in France in the 1600s, from his book, The Practice of the Presence of God.
I had the joy of seeing something amazing happen this evening. Our fledgling youth group, which began meeting this past August, volunteered to feed the homeless for the first time at the temporary winter shelter in Gilroy. While they were the ones assigned to serve the food, we needed adults to donate and prepare it beforehand. Even though several in our congregation had volunteered to bring food, I was worried that we wouldn't have enough. I didn't have faith that everyone who said they'd bring soup or spaghetti really would. I had doubts about the wisdom of volunteering to coordinate this team effort to have kids cover a night when there was no regular team assigned to serve at the shelter.
I was earnestly praying for God's help up to the last minute, praying that we would be able to meet the needs of the people, praying that no one would go away hungry and that our kids would have a good experience feeding the homeless for the first time. But I didn't really know how the experiment would go.
At first, not all the food had arrived, and as I watched how many people were lining up in anticipation of being fed, I felt nervous that we might not have planned enough. But then Pastor Eric Cho arrived and began bringing in soup that he had arranged to pick up from parishioners. While he had championed the idea and encouraged the team effort from the beginning, he was also able to rearrange his schedule at the last minute in order to wholeheartedly support the effort this evening in a hands-on way. Thanks to our pastor, all the soup got picked up. Thanks to him, those who needed rides got the necessary transportation to and from the temporary shelter. And thanks to him, all the dishes got washed. Having his help was a boost to everyone's confidence.
Julia Brodersen, mom to one of the young women serving, stayed to help, as did one of our youth leaders, Tina Bartunek. Our lay leader, Lisa Ready, who had been scheduled to simply drop food off, decided to stay after all and her coordination helped the kids to get more out of the experience, as the evening ran more smoothly. The one-to-one ratio of adults to teenagers showed the five young people doing all the serving just how much we valued their volunteer effort.
When I realized that the teenagers were hungry themselves and were not willing to wait until later on for dinner, the way the adult team members always do, I was relieved to see that we had enough food left for them as well. God had taken care of that need too, in spite of my small faith. However, they needed someplace to sit down.
I was hesitant to send them in to sit among the homeless in the main room, some of whom did not smell or look so pleasant, and who suffered from all kinds of disabilities. It would be taking the teenagers outside their comfort zone, for sure. But there was really no other place to sit. I finally decided it made sense to encourage the youth to join them; they looked too uncomfortable trying to stand, hold their plates, and eat.
I led the way to find empty chairs for them among the homeless. As soon as the first youth, Felix, sat down, the haggard man with a tired expression across from him said, "Thank you, thank you for the food." The other kids began coming in to sit down, and the homeless folks nearby began saying thank you as they recognized that the young people who had served them were now sitting next to them.
One of the youth suddenly put his hot dog down, turned to me, and said, "I thought it was going to be really uncomfortable being here, but I'm really glad I came. Now I see that they are people just like me."
I got to witness the very moment when someone's perspective changed.
The kids completely relaxed and ate just as if they were anyplace other than in the middle of a gym surrounded by more than 100 homeless people. They were joking around and talking with each other.
I should have known by now that God answers prayers and works everything out for the best.
We were people sharing a meal together who normally would have no interaction with each other.
The extraordinary thing about the scene was just how ordinary it was.