I’d like to begin this reflection by sharing a little bit about two people that truly touched my heart on this incredible trip.
I, along with my Muslim and Christian friends, volunteered at St. John’s. I was there Wednesday and Friday. Basically all I did was wash dishes, and part of me felt useless at times because there were so many volunteers that we had two people doing a one-person job. Yet, it was all worthwhile because of one man (as intense as that may sound, but I mean it sincerely). On Wednesday, a man coming into St. John’s to eat came dressed in a fedora and a vest with the look of a jazz saxophone player from another era (to me anyway). He immediately caught my attention from the many people in the room having their meals because of this eccentric outfit. But more than that, it was his smile and presence that made my heart melt. Wednesday was a dreary New York day. The clouds were dark and rain was showering the city. People all around seemed grumpy and displeased. Yet, there in Brooklyn was a man who was still smiling at everyone, and continuously thanked us in the kitchen for our work. He said ‘God bless you’ to anyone that crossed his path. I was shocked at this optimistic, bright presence that held on even in the hardships he had to endure. There are moments where I and everyone really lose faith in the good in this world. We see tsunamis wiping away entire cities, we see dictators show no mercy or humanity, and we see everyday people being inconsiderate and rude. Yet, here was a soul so pure and so loving that despite all the reasons he might have to be angry with the world and to be a cynic he held onto this essential part of humanity that we can forget so easily. Friday the day seemed to shine like this man. The city wasn’t bright for us I don’t think. To me, it was lighting up for him.
Doug, a Mennonite Christian now working for the Mennonite Fellowship in the U.N., is the second man I’d like everyone to know a little bit about. He shared stories with us about Vietnam and a little boy who wanted his deceased grandfather’s story to be told - this was forty years ago and to this day Doug still keeps his promise to that child. He shared stories about the genocide in Bosnia – an event so horrible and so black yet so unknown and hidden to the majority of students listening. His stories brought me, and several others, to tears. He was raised to believe that the Mennonite’s were God’s people, and that the rest of us weren’t. Yet somehow, God brought Doug enlightenment through experiences I can only imagine and can only experience through his eloquent words and his striking photographs. Doug found a humanity within himself that has opened his heart and eyes to people of other faiths and of other backgrounds. When he was asked at the end of our meeting if he was still Mennonite he said, “I’m Mennonite Plus.” He has set aside the Heaven/Hell arguments and found a way to do God’s work without having to label the people he served. For that, I truly admire him and can only say this short paragraph with my befuddled thoughts what it meant to me to hear of his stories. He, to me, is the epitome of the hope that this group represents.
I’d like to end with a verse from the Quran that was used in the first devotional of the trip by me and Sara. “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).” This is what Doug epitomized and this is what we must all strive for. This is what the group of students on this trip (and the people we have met in New York) have given me great hope for. To the other students, to Kate, to Chris and Hafsa, to Zahra and Yasir, to Lisa, to Marshall, to Doug, and to the rest of the people of New York that gave so much, I want to say thank you for a week of love, of enlightenment, and of hope.