Everything and Nothing

Today, I did everything and nothing. That’s what keeps running through my head as I reflect back on my first day. I can’t possibly put into words what it was like – pictures, videos, things you read before you come – nothing described it the way I experienced it. And listening tonight to the reflections of others, I realized how unique and dramatically different each of our experiences were. I’ll try my best to share mine, but the words will probably fall short.

My memories already are just scattered moments in a day that never stopped, that never allowed more than a moment for reflection. Cleaning out trash in living spaces this morning so new arrivals could move in (living spaces that would later hold 8-11 people in an area that fit only slightly more than 2 wireframe bunk beds.) Helping new arrivals carry their belongings and the supplies they’d been given to an area to wait to be assigned their housing. Working with a long-term volunteer to do a census – and finding quickly that no one stays where they’re originally housed for long. Carrying tarps and large bars of steel or rebar (these are no ordinary tent frames) – so many heavy bars – down the hill in the center of camp – and climbing back up the hill, over and over – from tents that were being taken down where people had been moved to another space. Trying to answer questions and help – in any small way – when the question being asked was in any of maybe 5 or 6 different languages I heard today.

Making a Difference… or Not

I can’t point to one single thing I did today that I’m sure made a difference. Certainly, nothing that made a difference in any major way. But – there were moments…the smile and the “thank you” a woman gave me when I listened with the help of a translator and walked with her over to clothing distribution to try to find shoes for her boys, even when I knew there probably weren’t going to be any more clothes to distribute today. The ball we cleaned out of one of the spaces – and came out minutes later to see kids had found it and were playing with it already. The children laughing at my silly hat and my perhaps slightly overly round stomach and reaching up to take my hand or for a fist bump or a high five. And most of all – the fact that the long-term volunteer that I was working with on moving the steel bars never made it all the way back down the hill for the second tent we were moving. Every single time she started, someone would stop her and offer to carry the bars for her. And then a man did the same for me. And as I turned around to go back up the hill to get another load, I started to cry. Because here – through all their pain I can’t possibly ever imagine, through all the frustration and anger they may feel, these men were offering to help. I don’t know, in their situation, if I would or could do the same. God was present there, in those moments, in a way I’ve never experienced before in my life.

Today I did everything. Or I did nothing. But I saw so much good in the hearts of those I worked with from FPC and SGI, in the hearts of those who have been volunteering here for months and in the hearts of those who have been through so much just to get here – and now have nothing but more uncertainty ahead. I can only hope I gave them a tiny fraction of as much as they gave me.

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