Category Archives: 2013-2014 Volunteers

Peace – By Colin Pettigrew

When I was tasked with speaking about Peace and my experience with it these last 4 months I had no idea what I was going to say. You see, AHOPE is not a peaceful place, at least not as I had come to understand it. AHOPE is a place where crisis is happening at all times and chaos seems to be seconds away. This is not what I would consider to be peaceful. I have grown up understanding Peace to be exclusively an external phenomenon wished for by kids and beauty pageant contestants (excuse me, “scholarship programs”). Peace was only something that could happen between two outside individuals or groups that were in conflict.

I had always heard talk about being “at peace” or having “inner peace”. I thought this sounded nice, but had no idea what it might look like in my own life. Because of this lack of experience with “inner peace” I had no idea that I may actually be experiencing it in one of the craziest places in my own life. At AHOPE crisis is around every corner and chaos is lurking, but it does not consume me. Instead I have been able to focus on the relationships that I am building with co-workers and clients alike, as well as the knowledge that I, and those at Homeward Bound are truly caring for the “least of these”. It is a place where the greatest commandment, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, is alive, and there is much beauty in that. The realization of this has caused me to also realize that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, at this time and in this place. The feeling of being where I am supposed to be stops me worrying about most decisions I have made or will make, and this has led me to discover that “inner peace” is a real thing. “Inner peace” is not just a thing for Buddhists, but something that can come from an acknowledgement that you may be in the exact time and place you are supposed to be to bring the Kingdom a little closer to Earth.


Love- by Emily Bentley

While thinking about where I have seen love throughout the past four months working with Hands and Feet, I thought about “the greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:36-40 reads “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It sounds simple enough, but I don’t think that means that it is easy. If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, then there shouldn’t be people that are homeless, or hungry, or lonely. I wish that we would truly and fully live this way. I wish that I would truly and fully live this way. We are not called to just be kind to one another, but to live in a way where we see Jesus in each other.  Where loving our neighbors as ourselves isn’t just an idea but a reality.

I am thankful for the moments where I have seen this love, God’s love, during the past four months. I have especially experienced this in my placement at Haywood Street Congregation, a homeless ministry/church in downtown Asheville. This is a place that welcomes anyone and everyone, no questions asked. A place that shouts together at the end of every worship service that we are God’s children. A place where the highest members of society are not sitting near, but sitting with the lowest, realizing that we are all sinners and we are all equal. By sharing a meal together, holding hands with each other, and worshiping our awesome God, we hope to break down the largest barriers of inequality and oppression.

It is through these things that we see a glimpse of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. A glimpse of the love that we are intended to share in community. And once you experience a love like that, you can’t go back. You want to share it everywhere, and with everyone.


Hope – By Corrine Roberts

When you dive into ministry or service as a wide-eyed, idealistic, fiery newcomer there are some things for which you can never be prepared. The depth of hurt and the level of injustice there is to overcome in our world is something you can know about in theory, however, until you find yourself stationed at the front lines battling against it day after day, it is not really real. Statistics remain flat on a page until they are fleshed out with faces and stories. And once you are struck with the enormity of it all, it can be overwhelming. Everyone will at some point reach a moment when it seems like too much. There are too many starving children, too many homeless on the streets, too many suffering from curable diseases, too many oppressed by government or media, too many lacking proper education…sometimes it seems as if there is simply too much darkness in the world to overcome. Nagging questions begin to creep into the back of your mind: Why bother? Am I really making a difference? What can one person do anyway?

I am not immune to these feelings of defeat. I have found myself at a loss meeting a man who grew up in an abusive home and has been on the street since he was a teenager. I have held back tears hearing about an addiction that warps a normally exuberant soul I admire into a dismal individual lacking his true spark. I have struggled to comprehend how a six year old can already be so full of anger because of his unfortunate situation at home that he lashes out, distancing himself from his small, confused classmates. It is simple to slip on cynicism like a coat of armor. It is a clever form of self-preservation. It takes little effort and personal investment to look out into the world and see all that is wrong. So, are we to simply give up because of the enormity of it all?

I don’t think so.

Budding beneath the blanket of darkness in our world there is hope.  It takes a bit more time and effort to locate, but believe me it is there and it shines brilliantly. It is present in the college groups sacrificing their winter break to build stairs and replace doors with Habitat for Humanity. It exists in the volunteers packaging food boxes and folding clothes at the Crisis Center on their day off. It pervades the hearts of those who have made serving the city of Asheville their career, regardless of the undocumented hours of overtime.

My mind wanders toward a favorite scene of mine from Lord of the Rings. It comes in a moment that is seemingly hopeless for two adventuring hobbits:

 

Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo: “What are we holding onto, Sam?”

Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”

Sometimes, when things are at their worst, hope seems naïve. It seems small and inconsequential in the face of all that must be done. But I have learned that this could not be farther from the truth. Hope is huge. Small moments of victory, love, support, strength, and selflessness in the face of adversity keep hope alive and cast a light that can be seen for miles. I for one plan to keep fighting for the good that I know is still present in a broken world. And I hope that you will do the same.


Joy – by Sarah McCoy

Joy. In these past few months, the joy I have come to experience the most is the joy in recognition, the joy in being remembered. Not the type of recognition that calls you out of the crowd. Not the type of recognition that feeds your ego. I’m talking about the familiarity of a face, remembering someone’s story. Noticing the empty chair at the table and missing someone. Recognizing that someone’s hair is a little bit shorter than the last time you saw them. I’m talking about the joy in knowing someone, whether it be the 14 six year olds I see every afternoon, or the group of adults at Bible Study every Monday morning. In these past few months, I’ve realized the importance of calling someone by name, of asking about their day, of picking up right where we left off. When someone knows your name, when someone asks about your story, about your roommates, about your family, don’t you feel the circle widen a little bit? There’s a bigger family in the picture now. And we’re all a part of it.

 

There was a period a few weeks ago where I was at a different school everyday with the YMCA afterschool. My usual group of six year olds didn’t see me for a while. But the day I came back, the piercing voices of 1st graders screamed my name and ran to hug me. They didn’t remember the times I had disciplined them. They didn’t remember the times they had to spend snack by themselves because of their attitude. They didn’t remember the times I had to say ‘No’ when they asked to be the line leader. They were just glad to see me again. They wanted to welcome me back.

When “the poor” and “the least of these” and “those kids” change from “them” to “we,” we can know that we’re in this thing together, and that my goal is theirs.

In these past few months with Hands and Feet, and especially in this season of Advent, the waiting and the expectancy have become all the more active to me. Nouwen says that active waiting looks a lot like “recognizing something is happening where you are, in each moment, and you want to be present to it.” For me, there is great joy in that.


On Earth as it is in Heaven – By Colin Pettigrew

I chose to apply and participate in Hands and Feet of Asheville because I was drawn to the ideas of service and community. I believe that those two things are what humans are called to and they are important to my personal faith.

 

The community of HFA is made up, primarily, of the volunteers that live together. Those of us that live together have already become like a small family in the couple months that we have known each other. We share meals and more importantly we share ourselves. We share each other’s triumphs as well as each other’s struggles. Living together has allowed us to get to known one another quickly and more deeply than I thought was possible with a bunch of strangers. I have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly we have become family.

 

The non-profit I have been working with is Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina, and more specifically the AHOPE Day Center. Homeward Bound is dedicated to ending homelessness in Western North Carolina and have successfully housed about 700 people in the area with a retention rate around 90%. AHOPE is a day center for those folks that are still homeless. It is a warm place where people can take showers, receive mail, make phone calls, and most importantly to get help connecting with all the available services for those who are struggling.

 

Working at AHOPE has easily been one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m only a few months in. It is a special place that reaches out to the “least of these” with always-open hands and without judgment. I have done my fair share of traveling and site seeing, and living in Asheville I am blessed with great views on a regular basis, but AHOPE may be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Although it is not faith-based organization, to me, it is a piece of the Kingdom on Earth where people are truly working to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and provide shelter for the homeless. I find it is a place that does justice, loves kindness, and certainly walks humbly.

 

There are few times where I have felt an overwhelming sense of certainty that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, but I can say with confidence that I am supposed to be living with these people, in this place, and doing this work all as a part of Hands and Feet of Asheville.


A Participating Love – Sarah McCoy

The further I get into this year, working for Hands and Feet, the more I am aware of the difference between merely going to work and fully participating in work.

Today at after school we had a field day. There were a handful of water games and relays to get the kids excited and running around. I came in with the idea that I would just explain the games and the rules and then simply watch as the kids played. They would mess up the rules and screw up the game, I would correct them, they would keep going, etc. I would keep my distance, they would play the game, everyone would be safe, everyone would have fun.

Except me.

Sometimes I think we see God as this kind of leader. The kind that keeps his distance, not wanting to interfere, not wanting to get dirty, not wanting to be there.

It was the moment that I sat down in the “Drip-Drip-Drop” circle with my group of fifteen, five and six year olds, that I thought about how, just as God longs for us to participate in this beautiful life, He longs to be there with us. The whole way. Every game. Every trial. Every struggle. The mundane and the extravagant. Every day.

I sat in the circle, and was chosen shortly after to be the victim of the water pitcher. Completely drenched, I ran around the circle, trying to catch the tiny human who soaked me. I slid back into place, thankful to the kids for forcing me to participate and finally realizing that the more I participate, the more the kids get excited about the game.

I’m pretty sure following Jesus is a lot like this.

We are invited into a crazy, beautiful game. the more our eyes are open and aware of the living God participating with us, the more excited we get. The more comforted we are.

You see, God didn’t place us in this world to watch us screw up. He didn’t put us here to tell us the rules and watch from a distance. He is not annoyed or inconvenienced by us. He is rejoicing in the times we are aware of him participating in life with us. His hands became dirty in this world. His heart became known. He took on our skin. He participated.

Maybe when we notice that God is here, in our lives, participating with us, maybe He gets excited too. I’m pretty sure he does.

So, to people like me, dreading participation, only wanting to keep other people at a distance, missing out on the game:

let us be reminded that sometimes we do get in the way of people knowing God. I don’t want to be this type of person. I want to be someone who fully participates. Everyday. Because we have a God who is constantly involving himself in every aspect of our lives.

May we have the courage to move into the circle, to get drenched in living fully,  loving fully, to get drenched in a love that is alive.

Father, drench us. In Your participating love. 


Creating Community – By Corrine Roberts

Summing up the past few months in snapshots is a more impossible task than I ever could have expected. We are only three months in and I already feel as though books would need to be written to encompass all the transformative experiences, unexpected relationships, humbling circumstances, and minor moments that have made up my Hands and Feet journey thus far. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I tend to get wordy when given the opportunity, but I will do my best to keep it brief.

My HFA volunteer positions are with The Timothy Project and the YMCA afterschool program. The Timothy Project organizes and runs mission trips for college students during the Spring and then youth groups during the Summer.  While we wait for that time of year to roll around I am interning with different organizations to which we will send our volunteers. So far that has included the ABCCM Crisis Center and the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

Another aspect of the HFA program is the group retreats we go on every few months. Our most recent adventure was to visit two intentional living communities in Georgia to catch a glimpse of what it is like to commit for longer than a year to communal living and service work. We went to Jubilee in Comer, Georgia and Open Door in Atlanta. Jubilee is a rural community that offers hospitality, housing, and classes for newly arrived refugees. They have an incredibly expansive garden and live off the land. They have committed members as well as volunteers who spend a few months or a year with the community as well. Open Door is a single home in downtown Atlanta that focuses on aiding the homeless with a soup kitchen and medical clinic. Both these communities also do work to abolish the death penalty. Their faith is clearly and joyfully interwoven in everything they do.

But, more than the logistics of this year, what I want everyone to know about are the individual moments that hold the real worth. Like the moment when I watched the first wall being raised on a Habitat house for a hardworking single father. Or the moment when a man I was serving lunch to at the Crisis Center made me promise him I would continue to pursue my dreams to get my Doctorate. Or the moment my YMCA kindergarteners nearly tackled me with hugs after I had been gone for a few days. Or the moment I paused to look around at a congregation filled with people who identified themselves as everything from businessman to homeless, from teacher to wanderer, from student to retiree. Or the many moments of laughter, craziness, reflection and simply doing life with my roommates.

In some form or another we are all creating community. We filter in and out of and flit in between different groups of people throughout our lives. This looks different for all of us. Sometimes it is a college dorm room, sometimes a sports team, a band, a support group, a Bible study, a church, a family, or a few individuals who click in a moment of commonality. Sometimes it is in a house in downtown Atlanta serving the homeless and advocating for the imprisoned. Sometimes it is on a few tucked away acres in Comer, living off the land and giving refuges a place to belong. And sometimes it is four college grads embarking on an intentional service year in Asheville, NC, trying to figure out how to love the world well while finding their place in it. Whatever form it takes, this is ultimately God’s plan for His people: to do life together. Somehow the burdens are lighter and chaos is less overwhelming. Of all the snapshot moments I do not have time to mention, I am most thankful for the larger picture they create. I am thankful for a glimpse into God’s community, His kingdom. And I wonder at the fact that I have a chance to be a part of it.

 


Sighs Too Deep For Words – Serving in Our Weakness – By Emily Bentley

I have only been in Asheville for about two months and working at my placements for a month and a half, and it seems like I am already hitting this wall where I am asking myself questions like “Am I really even helping?” and “Where will I see change and when will I see change?” And then I begin to think about the people that I’ve already met and start wondering…

Will there be a time when we don’t have people living on the streets looking for a home? Will there be a time when kids aren’t considered “at-risk” and are doing so well in school that we don’t need things like Project RISE? Will Jerry ever find a permanent housing situation? Will Jonathan ever make it through school and graduate (because sometimes it feels like we may never make it through this tutoring session)? Will there ever be a day when we won’t be praying for people with addiction problems because they don’t exist? Or a day when I don’t pass a friend walking on the streets who is looking for a place to sleep while I drive home to my warm home and bed?

These are the questions that cause me to sigh too deep for words, as mentioned in Romans 8: 26-30. I want the answers to these questions to be “yes” because I already feel so close to these people in my new community. However, I think it is likely that most of the questions will not be answered and will continue through this year. This makes me feel weak in that there is nothing I can do to make those changes and cause a difference to be made.

But in the midst of these thoughts and questions I am learning to be still and build relationships out of love because in the end that is what is most important- to love others and make them feel loved and cared for. And I pray that by doing this, change will happen. In service we always feel like there is something we have to be doing or we feel helpless, but often service simply means sitting and listening and being a good brother and sister in Christ. Because Christ has called us to be servants according to his purpose, to create earth as it is in heaven.