Five years ago when I felt the nudge to visit and help those in the inner city of my town, I had no idea what I was in for. In the beginning, I questioned and doubted if this “calling” was for real. I was a suburban girl and oblivious to the ways of the inner city. Nevertheless, the nudging persisted.
Getting brave and stepping over to the other side of town was not the hard part.
I thought being brave was showing up. I was cheery and full of anticipation of the reason I was there. I looked around and nothing was familiar. Nothing!
I wasn’t use to seeing men laying in old abandoned buildings trying to get a night’s sleep. Nor watching men stagger trying to shake off their drunkenness from the day before. Mom’s with tiny-wee babies lined up in hopes of getting in to the nearest shelter broke me down. It was too much for this sheltered sensitive heart of mine.
As I began to find ways to serve the people, it was apparent that the way I was brought up was much different from the culture and way of life there. I could sense the stares and the questioning looks from others. I knew they were wondering who I was. Their eyes glanced as if to ask, “are you for me or against me?”
Showing up was nothing. It was the continued journey that wrecked me. Some days I felt shattered beyond repair. While I longed to love and serve, there were hard lessons I had to forge through to make a difference.
The first 2 lessons I learned
1. Do not feel guilty because you are blessed.
I have never once had to worry about where I was going to lay my head or where I was going to get my next meal. Yes, there was a trying time when a scam artist took us for everything we were worth. But even then, the thought that I might live homeless or hopeless never entered my mind.
But as I began to dwell within this community and fall in love with the people, there were many days I would come home and be a broken-mess. I’d cry because I had a warm comfortable bed to fall in to. I’d weep because I had a loving family who supported and believed in me. I’d lay awake during rainstorms feeling guilty that I had shelter over my head. Passing others at bus stops, I’d want to make a U-turn just so I could evade another thing to feel guilty about.
This struggle was hard. It was real.
Finally a few years ago I heard someone say, “If you are serving those less fortunate than yourself and feeling guilty because you are blessed, then you have it all wrong. You are blessed so that you can serve the hopeless and helpless. I can’t say that the feelings of guilt left that day and that I still don’t cry my eyes out.
But I have realized that having resources to help others is a blessing, not something to feel guilty about.
2. Trust is earned through relationship.
Entering in to this new community, I went cautiously to learn. I knew I hadn’t walked in their shoes and they knew that too. And what’s that saying, “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” I lived that truth.
One moment after listening to a man offer-up his hurt heart and soul, I extended words of encouragement. It was mostly wisdom from God’s word. He listened intently with a look I could not figure out. A look with wide eyes and raised eyebrow. I tapered off what I was saying realizing I had lost him, when he walks close to me. It was a moment.
As awkward as it was, I didn’t budge. After a moment he whispers, “I don’t trust you.” If it would have just been me there, I would have broke. It was the lived-out-version of “people don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
Through those simple four words — I. don’t. trust. you., I learned the biggest lesson of all — relationship comes first. If others don’t know you, how do they know if you are worth trusting. And in a world where trust is lacking, relationship is vital.
Trust is sacred. It means walking out what you talk, showing up when you say you will, loving others even on their worst of days, being consistent and always being available for relationship.
I’m still learning today.
These weren’t lessons learned that I could pass off a multiple-choice test and be done. These are lessons I’m faced with daily.
Some of those lessons can be found in my book Graffiti — scribbles from different sides of the street. This book was co-authored with a friend who lives on the streets and the Kindle version is on sale for $2.99 today.
QUESTION: Have you ever served in an area or culture different from what you knew? What lessons did you learn?