There we were sitting at a table coloring pictures with an older African American woman with a bit too much rouge, and a thick line of lipstick covering her lips. She told us of her past and we realized she had a completely different upbringing than the three of us, me as a teacher, and two of my female Catholic High School students. We talked to her about Christmas and she did not enjoy Christmas as a child. There were no presents or gifts but there was a pancake breakfast with horrible pancakes. I asked her if she had any children. She replied, “I had them but they wouldn’t have me.” I ached from the bottom of my heart to hear those words. We did get her laughing when we talked about old funny movies and dancing. She recalled some good times from her past, singing in a Glee club and playing a few sports. She was very proud that she had been given a cake at this senior citizen center for her birthday last week. They even gave her a Klondike bar. It was only for a moment in time that we were able to really relate to her story but we left a footprint in her world and she left remaining fingerprints in our minds. I have heard the saying, “Leave only footprints. Take only memories” for years but that day I believe I did just that.
Yesterday I took 38 of my senior students on a field trip to an outreach ministry in town called CrossRoads Ministry. It was a day filled with immersion into the places of the marginalized of our community. Some of the students visited and worked with adults who are mentally disabled and the others socialized with the elderly who are living on the verge of poverty. We then all ate with homeless, poverty-stricken but not necessarily hopeless people at local soup kitchens. Many of the stories my students told, when we were all together again, were of the great hope these new friends had for their lives. I met a man who was at least 65 that said he was going to go back to school because he wants to teach. Others met people who because of life circumstances should have been angry but instead smiled and thanked the students for visiting with them. The purpose of this immersion was not to serve, judge or help but just to make a new friend. I agree with the objective of this retreat, to form a relationship with others, who we would normally pass by on the street without any acknowledgement at all. It is only when you find common ground that you realize we are all human, all made in the image of God, all one family.
I have been trying to teach my students since last year that Jesus loved the marginalized of our society. In fact he said at one point that he did not come for the righteous, he came for the sinners, the sick, the poor and the outcast. If we truly want to be Christians we must get out of our comfort zones. We must go to where Jesus Christ would go. We must support others with love, respect and dignity. We must hold out our hand and introduce ourselves, open our lives to others and give them what they need and desire respect and love. Only when we say, “Hello, my name is ______” and attempt to form relationships with others on the edge of society can we begin to call ourselves Christians. Those who truly follow Christ. Because that is where Christ went and where he wants us to go.