This week, our Ministry Volunteers read a sermon that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in March 1968 entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Among many important things Dr. King discussed in the sermon, he identified the tragedy in poverty when we fail to fully see and humanize our brothers and sisters in need: “the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.” The challenge from Dr. King, then, is “to make the invisible visible.”
A year of service in West Baltimore or East Richmond provides volunteers the opportunity to live amongst those whom broader society has too often made invisible.
Below, read an account from Sarah Wilson (BSVM 2010-2011) as she shares about an encounter with a neighbor that taught her about the power of mutuality and vulnerability. Her neighbor Tony moved from invisible to visible, and Sarah was changed because of his courage to share his story.
The following was published in Issue 12 of the Bon Secours Beacon (Winter 2012).
The Light of Service
By Sarah Wilson
A graduate of Stonehill College
As a Bon Secours Ministry Volunteer, I met many people in West Baltimore who had incredible personal stories about dreams that had died and pasts that were once promising. I learned that their stories need to be heard and, if you just listen, then you may be lucky enough to have someone share their own experiences.
I became a better listener while serving at Bon Secours Baltimore hospital and living in West Baltimore. My patients and my neighbors have showed me that no matter how difficult a situation can be it is necessary to have courage.
One Saturday last spring, I sat on the front stoop waiting for the bus and was approached by a man who appeared to be in his early forties. I mentally prepared myself to be hassled for money but I was pleasantly surprised when he asked about the priest who used to work at St. Peter the Apostle. When I responded that I didn’t know this priest, the man started to tell me a little more about himself. I quickly learned that this man had lost his house to a fire three weeks earlier and was living in a code blue shelter with his daughter. He introduced himself as Tony, and when I reached out to shake his hand, he broke down and got teary-eyed.
I invited Tony to come sit next to me so we could talk. I learned a lot about his life and some of the obstacles he had overcome. One thing which he said that really stuck with me was that he had not talked to anyone in months the way he was talking to me. He told me that most people were afraid to even sit next to him because he seemed unkempt and was homeless. I offered Tony a few suggestions about local programs that might be able to help him. After he left, I got the feeling that just by listening to his story I had already made an impact.
When I recall my conversation with Tony a quote from Marianne Williamson comes to mind, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” When Tony and I talked that afternoon, we both shared pieces of our lives. This mingling of stories gave me the opportunity to help him see some light in his situation, but it also allowed him to teach me about the light shining from my neighbors in West Baltimore.
My year volunteering with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry has taught me that providing service to people in need is not just a one way street. People who appear to have nothing at all can teach a person many valuable lessons. By living in the moment and listening to the people around me, I was fortunate to hear stories with lessons I never would have learned in school. Now that my year as a Bon Secours Volunteer is over, I know that each of the lessons I learned will always have meaning and will provide me with a new sense of direction and motivation in my future endeavors.
After completing BSVM, Sarah returned home to New Hampshire where she works at PAREXEL, a global research organization.