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Were You There: Comfort From a Stranger

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Editor’s note: Missioner Anna Klonowski reflects on a past service trip she attended in college, where a small gesture of comfort from one of the women there reminded her that service begins in the little deeds of kindness we do for each other.

In college, I had the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Break Experience where three other college students and I spent a week in our community of St. Cloud, Minnesota, serving alongside and getting to know refugees from east Africa and immigrants from Latin America. We also stayed at a center called Place of Hope, which is a recovery center for people with addictions, those who have been to jail, and those who are going through tough life experiences.

The trip was powerful—I learned about the struggles and joys of these communities, and their strength and willingness to share was overwhelming. In the midst of this amazing experience, there was one particular encounter—and an act of service from an unexpected source—that awakened me to the importance of small gestures.

The first night there, my group and I joined the women at the shelter for a movie night. Since Easter was near, they had chosen to watch The Passion of the Christ.

I had never seen The Passion before. It’s a graphic, honest movie, which tells the story of Jesus’ final days and his crucifixion.  You see Jesus being arrested even though he was innocent.  You see him being questioned and ridiculed, and refusing to rise to the insults.  You see him being whipped by the guards.

I had a hard time watching the violence.  At one point I couldn’t watch.  I put my head in my hands and sat for a minute.  

I was sitting like that when I felt someone move next to me.  Surprised, I looked up and saw that it was one of the women from the shelter.  She had come down from the couch to sit next to me on the floor.  She looked at me in understanding and put an arm around my shoulders to comfort me. She sat next to me for the rest of the movie.

Before that moment, I didn’t know this woman.  I didn’t even know her name, and I don’t think she knew mine. Later in the week, I would find out more about her and the circumstances in her life that had brought her to the center.  But in that moment, we were strangers.

The surprising, moving act of service she performed for me reminds me of the love Veronica showed Jesus on the road to Calvary. Veronica didn’t have the power to change Jesus’ suffering; she could only offer her presence and her small act of comfort.

In the same way, this woman offered me comfort in the seemingly small act of sitting with me and putting an arm around my shoulder. In a week where I had signed up to be of service to others, I found myself on the receiving end of great love in a small act of presence.

This woman’s service helped me to better understand just how important the service that Veronica performed for Jesus really was. It helped me to understand the impact of small actions, of a listening ear or comforting touch. As poet Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney wrote, “Little deeds of kindness, little words of love, make our earth an Eden like the heaven above.”

Thanks to Veronica, to the woman from Place of Hope, and to all who perform “little deeds of kindness,” we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth in moments like these.

Reflection Question: How can you practice one small deed of kindness and service towards a stranger today?

Long-term overseas mission is a natural extension of the ideals and interests that direct Anna’s life. At the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota, she connected her deep faith with her enthusiasm for social justice and women’s leadership while studying theology, Hispanic studies, and global business leadership. Anna fell even more in love with the Spanish language and Latin American culture during a semester in Xela, Guatemala. Her call to care for creation revolves around a desire to preserve the world for those who are marginalized, as well as for future generations.