Editor’s Note: During this National Volunteer month, missioner Aubrey Kimble shares some of her meditations on volunteering and service.
Volunteering has always been something that has interested me. I began volunteering a bit here and there throughout elementary and middle school to help with various campus events. I became slightly more serious about volunteering in high school, when I joined the Key Club and was able to inspire others to donate to different holiday events. Passing out turkey dinners for Thanksgiving and throwing a kids’ Christmas party (complete with gifts!) was the highlight of my volunteering time.
It wasn’t until I went to college, however, that my views of volunteering began to change and grow. The UNC Newman Center offered various alternative spring break trips, and I found myself going to the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for my first short term service trip. We spent a week volunteering at one of the poorest Catholic schools in the city, as well as helping to do maintenance work on a house that would become a L’Arche community. We were also able to help out at a local soup kitchen/food pantry one night.
This volunteer service trip taught me a lot about accompaniment – something I had never really given much thought to before. Our group talked about how important relationships are, and how sometimes simply being with someone and listening to them can mean so much more than constantly “doing” something for them.
This was a new revelation for me. I think it’s easy for many of us to get caught up in thinking about what exactly needs to be done. We are trained to look for problems, come up with solutions, and then do what needs to be done [quickly] so that the problem is solved and we can go home.
But on this mission trip to Philadelphia, I learned to practice accompaniment. We were a stable presence, if only for a week, in an elementary school where we talked and played with the kids. And instead of just serving dinner in the local soup kitchen, we sat down with the men to have a conversation with them and get to know them a bit.
That service trip changed how I viewed volunteering and eventually led me to Franciscan Mission Service. FMS’s model of ministry of presence is so rooted in love and in recognizing the dignity of the poor and oppressed that I knew I wanted to be a part of their mission. I’m trying to live that ministry of presence out each day in Bolivia as I get to know the students and faculty at the Carmen Pampa University more and more.
So I challenge each of you to take this National Volunteering Month to heart. If you are not currently volunteering, maybe you could take the next step to start. If you are already volunteering, maybe you could challenge yourself to simply be with those you are intending to serve. Stop and have that conversation you’ve always been too busy to initiate. Or go meet that man you see all the time but have never met. You’ll be glad you did.
Reflection Question: How can you be more intentional about how you spend your time in order to leave room to be fully present to others?