Epilogue from Sarah Beth Jarnagin
I encountered a lot of different types of people and situations during my Volunteer Odyssey Week. I was blessed by a young Ethiopian boy’s grateful heart after I helped him with his geology homework; and a woman whose heart has gone out to families divided by homelessness. It all caused me to realize that instead of simply not doing enough “good things” in my life, I had been robbing myself of so many life altering people and experiences. The people I met, in need or meeting needs, appeared to me as courageous. Whether they were a young girl living life joyfully with only three swollen fingers on each hand, or a man excited to wake up early each morning and serve starving people breakfast, our city is full of people working hard to meet it’s needs. I was humbled to learn about the many creative ways people have cultivated to begin solving our issues. When one gives, more is required than time or money, sacrifice is necessary. The individuals I served beside each made the decision to sacrifice something in their own lives.
A great reward of service is to receive love from those you have given it to. People are grateful for the little things and those who share get to reap the benefits. Every volunteer experience was special in its own way, but there were a few people and places I can’t seem to get off my mind. There are images of children’s smiles that have stuck in my mind, people’s voices, their stories, and struggles. One eight year old African male who could barely read, without the help of his afterschool refugee program he might not ever have the chance to learn. After my week I had the chance to go back to Advance Memphis and volunteer again, there wasn’t one person that didn’t remember me. The students were so happy to see me even though they had only met me one time. I was moved to see such genuine love from people that I had only given a day’s time. I have been challenged to view people differently and to love them the way Jesus Christ has loved me. The people I encountered taught me so much. They have shown me courage. They don’t see color or poverty. I want to understand better and I want to see people as people. I know that the more time I spend with people who are different than me the more I will be able to relate to their way of life and the obstacles they face everyday. Living on the streets, living in dangerous places, being born into poverty, being treated differently because of where one is from or the way they talk and dress, all these things are normalcy to some.
I can’t relate to that. I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of how I look or how I’m dressed. I didn’t come from wealth, but I didn’t come from poverty either. I came from a middle class white family that had enough money for food, tv, and occasional extra things. As far as middle class I was never at the top. I didn’t own expensive things or go on lavish vacations, but I learned how to fit in with everybody else. People didn’t know the difference between my penny and their dollar. My clothes looked just as nice or better, I knew things, I spoke well. You see, the higher paid and lower paid middle class citizens all run together there is not much distinction. Yet, for people living in poverty there are always clear implications. I can’t imagine walking around with a sign on my back that said,” I have less money than you, my opportunities are more limited, my education wasn’t as good as yours.” I may not know anything about being treated differently, but I am aware of what it’s like to look at someone else and know that financial status makes one different; it means people don’t fully understand each other and the personal circumstances experienced. It causes my pride to swell up inside, and arrogantly it says they’ll never fathom a way of life that requires one to work hard for what they want and sometimes need. That pride causes dissension and resentment. I have come to realize that maybe if I looked to people who have less instead of more, then some of that pride might fade and I might begin to relate to people who live a lifestyle far different from my own means.
The majority of organizations I had the chance to serve depend solely on volunteers and support from people around them. It gave me much pleasure to see all the ways our city is being built up. I met numerous people that have answered a call on their lives. I definitely plan to revisit my volunteer sites and build relationships with the people serving and the people being served.