For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger in your land and you invited me in. ~Matthew 25:35
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get my kids more involved in serving our community. After seeing some disturbing signs of entitlement from our teenagers (shocking, I know), we decided that they needed both a healthy perspective on how good life really is (despite not being allowed to have smart phones), and the pleasure of doing good for other humans. So – Frank and I decided to become monthly volunteers at the New Orleans Mission. I wasn’t originally going to write about this, but the experience has touched me so deeply that I wanted to share it with you.
Once we decided to get serious about getting our kids involved in community outreach, I contacted a friend of mine who is active in various outreach programs and asked for some recommendations. He suggested the New Orleans Mission, and after a quick glance at the website, I proceeded with filling out the necessary paperwork to schedule us to volunteer. Because I signed four different people up to serve, I ended up corresponding with two different staff members. Wires got crossed and when we showed up at the New Orleans location this morning, they actually had us on the roster at their sister location in Lacombe. Turns out that lunch at the New Orleans location is not served to the homeless community on Saturdays, but rather the “disciples” that work and live there while attending an intensive year-long recovery and re-entry program. The friendly chef assured us, however, that he could find something for us to do.
A couple of the disciples there walked Frank, myself, and our 14-year-old through the facility, explaining what they do and whom they serve on a weekly basis. Food donations are meticulously categorized and stored and meal planning is done with great intention so that all of the donations can be stretched to provide a lot of good meals for the homeless people of New Orleans. I will let you peruse their website for more details about how they serve the homeless, but let me stress to you that this food is amazing and they are very generous with the portions. Bellies and hearts are being filled by the precious people who make this place run like a well-oiled machine.
Since we weren’t serving lunch to the community, it didn’t take us long to set up lunch for the disciples, leaving us quite a bit of time to get to know these guys. Our scheduling snafu turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave us time to hear their stories. Many come from a background of addiction and incarceration and this program has offered them a second chance at life. They were eager to share their testimonies – the hard and painful parts as well as the redemptive parts. New Orleans Mission and the Discipleship Program has given them the opportunity to get clean and sober, grow spiritually, and join a brotherhood of like-minded people looking for a fresh start. We listened as they told us about the difficulties of rejoining society after a long time away in prison, or the agony of their addiction and my heart broke into a thousand pieces for the pain they’ve both caused and suffered. Yes, we helped them, practically speaking. We cleaned, set up, and served food. But the real work is done in just sitting, listening, and befriending. These are good, loving, gracious, caring people and their hearts are set on not just changing their own lives, but making a difference in the lives of others. And true to form, I walked away today better for not what I gave them, but for what they gave me.
I made new friends and from hearing their personal stories, have been moved to support them on their journies to freedom and fulfillment. I’m excited to bring my new friend George a can of Cincinnati chili because after talking at length about the food we love, I discovered he’s never tried it. I’m excited to see some of the other disciples move on to their new steps in the program and to witness others graduate and begin a new life. These folks are doing good, lasting work here and I’m honored to be a part of it.
For those of you that are looking for a cause to champion or ways to donate your resources to someone making a difference, I highly recommend the New Orleans Mission. This year, I’m resolving to love on God’s people and I’m starting there.