On my last day at the Haven, after all of our cooking was completed and I finished my last day at the grill, both kitchen managers and a few of the guests at the Haven came to surprise me with a thank you card and a bag of their famous granola. It was totally unexpected and completely caught off guard, and all I could do was thank them for everything that they had taught me over the past two months. Caught up in my own self-reflections and forever grateful for the wisdom that my coworkers imparted on me, I never stopped to consider the impact that I could have on the Haven and those who worked there. To me, I was performing a small role that would benefit the organization that had so generously given me a space to see God in my work. What I failed to see was how my volunteering at the Haven impacted the kitchen managers and guests at the Haven. In the thank you card, one of the managers mentioned something that has stuck with me. He said that we are all “On Pilgrimage” –a spiritual journey–throughout life. This made me consider my time at the Haven as a whole.
The Haven is full of people On Pilgrimage. For the guests, it is the physical hardship and uncertainty that comes with the journey. They have experienced the hell of homelessness in which all choice has been taken from them. Their prospects are slim and most of the people that they encounter are cold and unresponsive. But during their time at the Haven, I believe that they see a glimpse into the Kingdom of God. A place where community is fostered, needs are met, and the opportunity of choice is restored. At the Haven, God “proclaims good news to the poor…binds up the brokenhearted, proclaim[s] freedom to the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). While it’s impossible to create an organization that reflects God’s love perfectly, the intake shelter becomes an “aisle space” where people can interact with a God who restores their value, imbues them with hope, and fosters community.
Similarly, the volunteers and staff of the Haven are also On Pilgrimage. While their need may not be as physical and tangible, it is no less imperative to every individual. For those who volunteer, there is an inherent desire to help others without knowing the best way to accomplish those goals. They give their time to the Haven in the hopes that they can affirm humanity in a group that they see as less fortunate or forgotten by society. In many ways, this objective is accomplished, but something else happens. As the volunteers come to the intake shelter, they see not only the brokenness and the impermanence of the world around them, but they are overwhelmed by hope. They see people with nothing in this world build community and love unconditionally without regard for possessions. On their pilgrimage, they learn how God’s love permeates and shines in the darkness. There is a desire to learn and grow within that transcendent hope alongside people that, on the surface, have little. They see the light emanating out of the back door of hope in the darkness, only making the light more spectacular and brilliant.
Finally, I see that I too am On Pilgrimage. I see God’s love manifest through the community in the intake shelter. I am humbled by the faithfulness and perseverance of the volunteers and staff who give their time to create a space for hospitality to be possible. My view of God has become deeper, richer and fuller because of the commonplace experiences and everyday conversations with guests and volunteers alike. I feel I know God better after my time at the Haven. These months have reminded me of the incredible truth that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Many people have sharpened me during my internship at the Haven. I have been surrounded by a cloud of people On Pilgrimage with me. We bounce ideas off of one another, see God’s love in different ways, and bring out new elements of our personalities. This cloud of witnesses has challenged my preconceived notions of hospitality, compassion, and aid to those experiencing homelessness. It is in this web of theological interaction that I was exposed and hidden, bold and reserved, pushed by other ideas and given the space to develop my own.
We are all On Pilgrimage. It will look differently from person to person and in a variety of situations. That being said, there is a unity in realizing that we are all walking together, learning as we go. In this pilgrimage, we know that “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:17). Our pilgrimages are intertwined so that love may be made complete in us. They are intertwined so that we can experience true love, hope, friendship and community while also experiencing a “hospitality of our conjoined pilgrimages”. On our unique journeys, we join together in aisle spaces like the Haven to help others and see God at work. In doing so, we truly can establish true and genuine hospitality in a seemingly inhospitable world.