“Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses”

Last night, my housemates and I hosted a final get together and commissioning service before we all leave early next week. Below is what I shared!

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Natalie and I spent my year working at Miami Rescue Mission’s Center for Women and Children as their administrative assistant. My tasks varied from answering phones to serving meals to creating new forms for the rest of the staff to use. Working at the Center for Women and Children, I gained confidence in my own skills, experience working closely with clients, and absorbed advice and tips from my manager, Ms. Aline. Frequently, I would sit in her office while filing or working on a project together and clients or staff would walk in and out with questions, ideas, and dilemmas for her. During these moments, I got to be a fly on the wall and watch how she handled each situation. After our guest left, 9 times out of 10, she would turn to me and say, “Natalie. Manager tip number 531” and proceed to explain what just happened in the conversation as well as how to prevent it from happening again or how to make a situation better. I thought a lot this year about how Ms. Aline and the rest of the staff could have treated me as what I was on paper – an intern, a volunteer. But they didn’t. Everyone I worked with made sure there were ways for me to learn daily and opened up the space for me to ask any and every question about life in Miami, life as a non-profit worker, life as a mother, life as an immigrant, and many, many other topics.

A part of the DOOR Program in Miami is that each of us is matched up with a mentor in the Miami area. My mentor, Diana, and I got along really well. She is an alumnus of the Young Adult Volunteer program in Tucson and Nashville, and therefore, understands the challenges of living simply and being a year-long volunteer. Diana met me frequently for meals and conversation. She’s been a huge help this year in guiding me toward my next steps and simply being there for me to vent about things going on in my life.

As YAVs, we are expected to be involved in a faith community in the area. I’ve had the privilege of attending Riviera Presbyterian Church regularly this year and have loved how quickly the wrapped my housemates and myself with love. I turned 23 in March and my birthday landed on a Sunday. That morning, all of my roommates went to Riviera to begin celebrating my birthday together. It was weird spending a birthday without seeing life-long friends and family. However, as soon as I walked into the sanctuary, everyone already knew it was my birthday and I was greeted as if they’d known me for years. The congregation even sang “Happy Birthday” to me during the announcements. For someone who typically does not care much about birthdays, this year’s was filled with such a wide range of emotions, but I look back on it fondly, mostly because I got to begin the day with people who love me and see me as a child of God. Beyond this one example, the members of Riviera have done such beautiful acts of kindness toward us like giving us home-cooked meals, inviting us over for Thanksgiving dinner, and including us on trips to the zoo and the beach.

Another group our house has had the opportunity to get together with is the United Methodist Church’s Young Adult Missional Movement participants. It’s been great to come together with young adults who also have somewhat strange (but awesome!) callings in life. When we gather together, we typically just play board games and eat pizza, but there’s always space during these evenings together to discuss the problems we encounter as intentional communities, as interns at our workplaces, and as young adults in general.

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I tell you about these special people in my Miami life because I don’t think I realized the community I was going to get out of this year. We all knew we would be expected to live respectfully with other volunteers as one community, but I hadn’t anticipated becoming a part of so many unique communities in the span of one year. I certainly brought with me a cloud of witnesses that are mostly stationed in North Carolina, but now I get to leave this year with so many more witnesses.

At my home church in Durham, NC, when a child is baptized, there’s a lot of focus on the importance of the congregation making a commitment together for that child. We vow to “undertake the shared responsibility for the Christian nurture of [the] person, to try to set forth an example of faithful discipleship, and to get to know [the] person and play with, share our love, and teach them about God.”

Every person I have named and thought of throughout this reflection, perhaps unknowingly, took these vows from my home church seriously in walking with me through this year. I have my reasons for being excited to return home and my reasons to be dreading leaving this year. A major part of this dread comes from saying goodbye to these faces, not knowing when or if I will see them next. But I will leave thinking of the hymn “Blest Be The Tie That Binds” — “When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”

Thank you to everyone here for nurturing the four of us. I ask you to keep up with us and we will do the same in the coming years. I hope that you will continue to have close ties to the DOOR Miami Program, becoming a cloud of witnesses for future Dwell/YAV groups. Thank you!

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