Tonight I’ll be going to Bridges. It’s a women’s safehouse the next town over where I’ve started volunteering. For the hour and a half every week that I’m there, I’m completely outside the bubble of my life here at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. Instead I’m in the “real” world, where women with young or yet-to-be-born children are trying to overcome difficult circumstances and abusive relationships to start a new life. No talk of linguistics, missions, or francophone Africa here. It’s good for me.
I go and make dessert with them. So far we’ve attempted applesauce loaf cake, peach cobbler, and chocolate chip pumpkin bread. As we peruse recipes, mix the ingredients, and wait for our dessert to bake, we share snippets of ourselves and our stories. Mostly I wait for them to share something and I listen. Last week, one of the women was talking about past relationships and how she came to be an expectant mother. She looked to be younger than me. She was saying that she had her child’s father narrowed down to two men she’d known. She wasn’t sure, though; she’d be able to figure it out once she knew the date of conception.
Hopefully I was able to control my expression so as not to reflect my immediate reaction. “This is why I’m here,” I thought a bit later. “We come from completely different worlds of experience, and I need to be around people like you.”
I hope I never stop getting out of my comfort zone. I hope I never settle for the familiar and the known. I hope my sights are never so fixed on some distant country that I’m not looking around my own locale for opportunities to grow.
As an “itinerating missionary” I have mixed feelings about the phrase “the mission field.” Obviously I use it a lot myself in talking about my plans. But I think a lot of people recognize that we tend to glorify the mission field overseas, as somehow a loftier destination and a more noble goal for Christians. Our response is usually to talk about the “mission field in our backyard” or “the mission field coming to us.” I have mixed feelings about that too. Why couldn’t we just talk about leading lives of authentic witness, wherever we are?
When I applied to volunteer at Bridges, they asked me why I was interested in their organization. I told them that I wanted to grow in relating to people different than me. I wanted to learn from the women what their experience had been. What activities might I be interested in doing there? I explained that I didn’t have any particular skill to offer in a workshop setting. But I said I’d enjoy hanging out and listening to the women, if that would be okay. They seem to be fine with it.
Thanks to a wonderful place called the Uncommon Grounds Cafe in Aliquippa, PA, I can go to a place like Bridges in humble confidence. I have seen what listening does, both to the one who is heard and to the one who listens. And making something yummy never hurts either…tonight it will be sweet potato pie!