driving east on highway 70 can be a blur. you don’t see much unless you are really looking. you see the mountains ahead, of course. trees. a storage facility or two. and if you’re even a little bit distracted, the warehouse on the left will appear to be just that. a warehouse. but if you look just a little closer, you’ll see a sign with colorful letters for a charter school. it doesn’t seem like much on the outside. but once you venture through that front door you have a chance to see the real story. a place full of art, music, laughter, and a staff dedicated to the success of their students.
it’s december now. I’ve been in this new chapter of my life for 4.5 months. spending my days with little ones as we conquer dreaded math assignments. work our way through pages of picture books, and run around on the playground at recess. I absolutely love my job. plain and simple. it warms my heart to see children truly discover the joys of learning. to find their talents and gifts and weave them into their education. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. but that does not mean that this big change in my life has come without challenges.
I am, by definition, a creature of habit. to a fault. I do not handle change well. I struggle every time. moving to asheville was a huge step outside of my comfort zone. even months in to this experience I find myself uncomfortable and unsure. everything feels foreign. and sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing here. in a place where I feel as though I sick out like a sore thumb.
but the Lord is faithful. He orders my every step. and each week I am reminded that there is a purpose bigger than myself. and I am never without.
I work about 20 minutes east from my home. and I do not have a car of my own. I have wonderful team members whom are gracious enough to allow me to carpool with them in the morning. it was the afternoon that was quickly becoming a problem. the bus stop is almost a mile from school. and my only option for getting there was to walk in the shoulder of the busy highway. so every afternoon for 2 months, I did exactly that. I would stand out in the school parking lot. say a short prayer of protection to the Lord. and make my way down the highway. but He always sent me reminders of His protection and love for me. one afternoon a buncombe county detective even offered me a ride. we got to talking about his faith and how he had come to be in asheville. and he took me all the way downtown to meet my ride. I have since worked out most of my transportation issues thanks to the wonderful people that I work with each day. and slowly but surely I am finding my way.
it’s still scary and new. and I have rough days sometimes, but I have no doubt that there is a purpose even if I cannot see it. and I find great comfort in that.
I need to start carrying business cards that say Rachel Rasmussen, professional neighbor.
Hope to Home, a program of Homeward Bound of Asheville, matches individuals who are transitioning from homelessness into permanent housing with a team of volunteers from local faith communities. The volunteers act as a supportive team for their recently housed neighbor—making phone calls, driving to doctor’s appointments, celebrating birthdays, and such. While part of my time is spent doing administrative tasks to coordinate the program, the bulk of my job is to nurture relationships: develop trust with the Hope to Home partner (the recently housed individual), model a neighborly relationship, and encourage the volunteers to grow together as a team.
As people of faith, we’re responsible to care for our neighbors. I think about the story in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus is asked about the Greatest Commandment and tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Someone asks him, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus goes on to tell the story of a Samaritan who comes across a man on the street that has been taken advantage of. The Samaritan is filled with compassion and cares for the wounded man. The listener is then commanded to ‘Go and do likewise.’
Sometimes being a neighbor requires compassionate activity, like the Samaritan man who lifted up his wounded neighbor. Other times being a neighbor requires active compassion, like loving my neighbor as myself even though my neighbor might appear to be quite different from myself. In a culture where we are increasingly focused on what we can get done and how efficiently we can do it all, it can be difficult to value and prioritize this active compassion. It usually seems easier to do compassionate activities—serve food at a welcome table or sort donations at a clothing closet—than it is to be actively compassionate. Sometimes we’re called to not only lift someone off the street, but to go farther and walk with that person down that difficult street.
So time is not wasted when I’m waiting with a Hope to Home partner for her prescriptions to be filled and we stroll down store aisles to sniff scented candles, rather we are beginning to find common ground on which to build a relationship. My heart cracks a little every time a different Hope to Home partner shares about broken relationships in his life—and the best, and only, thing I can do is to listen and encourage. I repeatedly tell volunteers (and myself), ‘You don’t need to fix anyone’s problems, you just need to sit with them and be present.’ Neighboring is an art— something that requires committed practice, true intention, forgiving patience, and a simple willingness to show up and be there.
These past few months have been such an amazing experience. Being out of my comfort zone has made me grow, not just as a more out spoken person, but I have grown in my faith as well. It’s been nice not knowing anyone because that as made me meet a lot of different kinds of people. The first two weeks we got to explore Asheville and worshiped with different types of churches. Getting to know the area before starting work made me feel more comfortable being on my own and away from home.
When I began working at Irene Wortham Center I didn’t know exactly what was expected of me. As time went on, anxiety about going into classrooms and playing with the kids disappeared. In the mornings I work at the front desk greeting parents and children, answering the phone, and making sure peoples questions are answered. Then during the afternoon I help out around the center and go around into the classrooms to assist in crafts and play with the kids. I absolutely love my job. Seeing the kids everyday brings joy to my heart.
I am so blessed to have a wonderful house that Hands and Feet provided for us. When we need our space we each have our own room to go in and we have a great living room and kitchen in which to enjoy each other company. At the beginning of the program we made a covenant to establish an understanding of what we want out living situation to be like for this year and though it’s not always easy to live in community, it has turned out great!