Being a pastor for Chi Alpha, one of the Protestant ministries here on campus for the past three years, I've learned how Georgetown students aspire to the Jesuit value of contemplatives in action. I knew this is something our students would want to take part in, but I also knew this was probably bigger than Chi Alpha alone. Not only would other Protestant ministries want to be involved, this was an opportunity for people from any faith tradition or no faith tradition to make a substantive difference in the lives of people in the community. In addition to providing a chance to serve, this was also a way to present the best work of the church to those who may not have any faith background.
We invited all of the Protestant ministries to participate, and then extended the invitation to people who lived in the residence hall where I serve as Chaplain in Residence. We also asked other Chaplains to invite their students. On the day of the event, there were over 40 of us from all over the campus, and from multiple ministries. Students from ministries such as the Gathering, Campus Outreach, Chi Alpha, along with residents of Reynolds, Kennedy, and Harbin joined together for this event. We were united with a common goal of service for the common good.
The plan was to welcome the community at 10am, but there were so many people lined up by 9:30, we opened the doors early. People poured through the gates and were greeted by volunteers eager to serve.
In addition to students and staff from Georgetown, there were over 600 volunteers, and over 30 churches in the DC area who partnered to make this event happen. Over the course of the outreach that day, over 2,100 people from the neighborhood came through to receive free groceries, free health services, HIV screening, resume services, free books for children. The children were welcomed to the “kids zone” with enormous inflatables, as well as dozens of other free goods and services.
It was so encouraging to hear from people in that community about the success of the event. One of the neighborhood police officers we spoke with told us that as hard as they try, they can't get people to come out to their events for fear of immigration enforcement. The officer thanked us for the most successful event he'd seen to his neighborhood.
In addition to bagging groceries, and helping with set up, many of the students from Georgetown ended up handing out books to children. One child looked up after being given a book and said with exuberance "thank you so much!" He was so excited, it was like we gave him a Christmas present.
One of the many free services offered was a family portrait studio. People could receive a professional quality family picture for them to take home that day. One of the most moving sights from that day was a woman whose portrait was taken. She was so proud she couldn't stop showing it off to people. She was homeless, had clearly lived a hard life, and was missing most of her front teeth. Regardless, the smile on her face was beaming with joy as she proudly showed everyone she met her picture. Who knows the last time she experienced such a moment of pride and was reminded of her self worth.
One of the most moving stories from that day was sent to me by Chris Jarrell, one of the pastors at National Community Church, who organized the event. He tells the story of Ximena:
"Ximena is a single mom with two children who attends National Community Church. Upon hearing about the Convoy of Hope outreach in Columbia Heights, she decided that she wanted to volunteer. To be with her two children throughout the day, she volunteered in the Kids Zone.
Ximena has been homeless for a year and is currently living in a shelter.
Even after a team leader gave Ximena a coupon for groceries, she still ended up giving her own coupon to someone else who needed groceries. Today, her desire to serve other people certainly outweighed her own personal need.
(One of the team leaders from Columbia Heights made sure that Ximena received her groceries!)"
The students who served that day were humbled by the need they saw just a few blocks from a popular shopping center. Our prayer is that this would be the starting point for further service in their communities. The goal is to provide a starting point for a life of service. Regardless of what denomination, or even faith tradition, that day they saw that we can unite to share the love of God with those in need.