This week as part of our Lenten “Walking in Solidarity” series, we focus on practicing outreach and charity.  This past Wednesday our Domestic Volunteer Sarah began her direct service work at Miriam’s Kitchen and she reflects on her first day for this Mission Monday post.

I saw God in the smiles of strangers.

It was my first afternoon volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen in downtown Washington, D.C.

It was also my first time working with, or even talking to, the homeless.

It was definitely my first time really seeing them. I had looked at them before, as I passed them on the street; saw them surreptitiously out of the corner of my eye. Most often I was too afraid to stop, too afraid to give, mainly because of the stigmas.

What would they do with my money? Would they spend it on drugs and alcohol? Maybe it was safer to give them food, but what if they had a food allergy and I ended up doing more harm than good?

These are the types of thoughts and prejudices I usually had. By the time I was done thinking such thoughts, I had passed them by. “Them.” That’s how I saw it. Nameless, faceless people. They drew pity and concern from me, of course, but I didn’t understand. I was afraid.

This fear is why I chose to do my direct service in a setting where I could interact with homeless people. I didn’t want to be afraid. I wanted to understand. I wanted to see these people as I passed them.

Miriam’s Kitchen has a program called Miriam’s Studio, which is run by an art therapist. People can come in to work on various types of art projects, as well as to participate in activities such as writing groups and yoga classes. I loved the idea of this program because it doesn’t just nourish the body; it nourishes the soul, as well.

When I first arrived, I didn’t know what to do. I trailed around after a staff member, trying to meet some people and get a feel for how things worked. I was meant to be a ministry of presence, mostly just talking with people, listening to them, being a friend. But what if they didn’t like me?

It didn’t take long, though, for some of them to warm up to me. Pretty soon, I was modeling jewelry made by several attendees, admiring the artwork of others, and discussing books and movies with still others. I found myself laughing and smiling, encouraged by the laughter and smiles I received in return.

They all had names. They all had faces. I found in them some of the most incredible beauty I’ve ever experienced. Their art was beautiful. Their words were beautiful. Their souls were beautiful.

I have only just begun to understand, but now I am no longer afraid. I saw them. And I saw God in their smiles.

Sarah Hoffeditz, our newest domestic volunteer, joined our staff as communications and development associate in January of, 2013.  She graduated from Bellarmine University with a degree in Communication and a minor in English in 2012.