I went to the city mission today with a group from my college. We go every week, offering our time, energy, and the biggest smiles we have to feed the hungry and worship God with them. This was our first week back. It felt good to walk down the purple flight of steps and hear the voice of the mission’s director greeting us as we came in.
It feels good to be needed. It feels like we are important, that we’re making a difference. It feels like righteousness and Jesus-ness to help the inner-city community.
Until we were driving back to campus tonight. And as we got onto the highway I looked down away from the road and saw some kids in a park behind a chain-link fence. And they were all ganged up around a boy curled up on the ground, like they had just finished kicking him down.
My stomach lurched, even though they were gone from my view in a second. There was nothing I could do, no where for us to stop and turn around, and suddenly it all felt very worthless — all this do-gooding we had been up to.
It felt a little hollow and like we were scratching the surface of poverty and violence. We could feed the hungry — but just one night a week. We could tutor the kids — but almost fifty percent of them are predicted to not graduate from high school in our city. And while we were riding in our van, laughing and singing, speeding back to the sanctuary of dorm rooms and a warm cafeterias, a little boy was getting beaten up in his own backyard.
As we drove and drove I couldn’t help but notice all the nice houses lining the streets, just minutes away from the folks who live under concrete bridges and stock up on food at a mission.
And it felt like we just weren’t making a difference.
But then we got back and watched a video that some of the people at the mission had put together. The smiling faces lit up the screen. A lot of people in the video said nice things about the mission, but one man’s words struck my ears. He talked about the food. He said the food we served and ate with them was more than just beef and bread, it was holy food. And who can think of holy food without thinking about that Holy Meal, consumed so long ago?
I haven’t had the ability to take Communion in a very long time. My church just doesn’t do it that often, so I’ve been craving Communion and the Community that I want to go hand-in-hand with it. And while no one at the mission blesses our bread like Jesus blessed His — and our cup is filled with unfiltered water that is nothing like blood-red wine — I have to think that there is a little bit of Communion in that meal. There is a little something holy in that food.
It may be eaten amidst laughter and shouting and the sounds of messy, chaotic lives, but it feels like we’re feeding more than just stomachs. Because no matter how tired and worn I am every Wednesday before I leave the campus, I always come back with more strength than when I left.
There’s still a hurting boy somewhere in that city tonight. My prayers reach out to God for him, because I don’t know what else to do tonight. I still feel so hopeless when I think of how little I am compared to the weight of the darkness all around me. But, I think feeling the community around me by eating the holy food and holding hands out in service together makes me know that this is not a battle I tackle, all alone. There is One who also sat in a room, breaking bread and drinking wine, with twelve people who did not have the tools to conquer the darkness. But He did. And, Friends, He hasn’t left us on our own. Don’t let the darkness drown out your hope.