The students participating in the Belmont Immersion trip to Washington D.C. are staying with a church called “Church of the Pilgrimage”, which is a seasoned host to many groups doing alternate spring break trips just like us. Several of the programs we attend are set up through the Pilgrimage, including a daily reflection on a word, idea, situation, etc. The word for today was “Disruption”. What a great day for our word to be disruption. To start off on the most basic level, our day was disrupted by the snow storm that has swept the east and has all of the federal and most of the public buildings here in D.C. shut down. Our meeting with the International Justice Mission this morning was cancelled, and we really just weren’t sure how this day was going to turn out. Spoiler alert: it was a fantastic first day to start this week.
As a group we decided that we didn’t want to stay cooped up at the church all day, so we took off to explore D.C. in the snow storm. It was a good old fashioned tourist adventure. We got lost, eventually found the White House, took a thousand and one pictures, complained about the cold, and then later joined in a city wide snowball fight. Not much immersion happening at this point, just lots of touring and wide-eyed amazement at a city much different from our own.
Later came the immersion and the challenges. A small group of us went to volunteer with a program from a non-profit, Martha’s Table. The program “Mckenna’s Wagon” is essentially a soup kitchen on wheels. Four of us took off in a van with our sweet driver Patricia, that was loaded with sleeping bags, sandwiches, chips, hot soup, hot tea and of course some sweet desserts. We stopped at two places, and each had its own trials. The first stop came as a sort of culture shock. We were confronted with a crowd of homeless people who were of course hungry and freezing, something we could almost related to, but they also had a look of helplessness about them that I had at least never seen personified so intensely in one face. They asked for gloves and more food and no matter how much I wanted to take them all home and care for them, almost as if they were lost puppies, there was only so much we could do to help. Eventually, the sleeping bags ran out and the customers walked away, and we moved on to the next stop.
This was almost another experience entirely. We had soup thrown at us (or more so at another person and it almost hit us). Some men were upset because we didn’t have any sleeping bags left, and others just really wanted the cake instead of the cookies. We all agreed that the moment the altercation between two of the men broke out and one of the men made the decision to throw the soup at him, hitting the van and narrowly missing us, was a moment we found both discouraging and a little scary. He fed into the stereotype of homeless people who aren’t appreciative and cause problems more than they attempt to help one another or themselves. This disruption went against the experience of gratitude and humbleness that we had seen from the previous men and women we met. But we chose to ignore that disruption and turn back to the long line of people still hoping to get a bit of warm food and love before turning in for the long, cold night ahead.
As much as I want to talk about the homeless people we encountered, I also want to talk more about Patricia. Patricia is from Mexico and has been in the United States for twenty years now. She is one of the most selfless and shining souls I have ever encountered. She works for a non-profit whose aim is to foster empowerment and entrepreneurship in Africa and volunteers countless hours driving vans filled with food for the homeless from Martha’s Table. Patricia is someone who you meet and you are immediately filled with awe over God’s creation through this person. She uses all that she has been given to serve others and she never thinks twice or asks for recognition in return. Patricia is a servant leader through and through and meeting her would automatically inspire you to serve in God’s kingdom the way she does and with all the grace and kindness in her heart.
After Mckenna’s Wagon and dinner, we met Eric and James, two representatives from the National Coalition for the Homeless. Eric and James came to speak with us about their experiences being homeless and to share their life stories. The most eye-opening portion of the entire conversation was the truth that homelessness isn’t all about drug and alcohol addiction, mental-illness and laziness. Both Eric and James told stories that moved from a normal, supported, healthy, happy, want-for-nothing lifestyles and morphed into economic hardships, depression, losing everything and fighting to get it back. Both of these men are incredible advocates for the homeless and for finding a cure for homelessness. Eric is a member of several organizations who share the goal of curing homelessness and create initiatives to find ways to complete this task. The idea of curing homelessness seems implausible and impossible, but isn’t there a really cool quote out there by Nelson Mandela that reads; “It always seems impossible, until it is done.” If Eric and James don’t fight for themselves and help us to fight with them, who would do it? If Eric and James don’t step up and disrupt our stereotypes and views of the homeless, how will we be pushed to think, act and perceive homelessness differently?
The theme for today was disruption and it’s so cool to see how God threw that disruption into our lives and our stories today. Disruption started off as an inconvenience and ended as major talking point about what it means and how we have to bring this back with us when we leave D.C. Each and every one of us here on this trip leads a privileged lifestyle in one form or another. Most of us come from upper-middle class families and know nothing about homelessness and couldn’t being to fathom what it’s like to be cold and hungry with no source of relief. Disruption causes us to be uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable causes confrontation. That confrontation causes changes in the way we think and changing the way we think is how we begin to want to change the way others think. Changing the way others think is how we begin to change the world. This is day one on the Belmont Immersion trip to Washington D.C. and already the disruption we have experienced in the last 24 hours has caused a ripple effect that will carry on to the future in ways we cannot begin to know. Tonight we are a little cold, a little tired and a whole lot excited about what is in store for us this week.