That’s right: I said “Don’t volunteer at Guilford.” At least, don’t volunteer if you just want to do a little something nice for the underprivileged or if you are checking off the “help the community” box on your weekly to-do list.
You see, should you volunteer at Guilford, something will happen to you when you meet these kids. No longer will you be able to keep your heart’s door closed to the reality of the poor. Everything that you have carefully compartmentalized into statistics and bar charts and percentages of those-who-qualify-for-free-lunches suddenly become …people. Beautiful, unique, gifted individuals who face challenges that most of us cannot fully grasp – challenges that are out of their control.
I spent the afternoon at Guilford Elementary last Friday. I was the special guest of one of the third grade classes, and now I know what it feels like to be a rock star or Santa Claus. I was treated like royalty, given lots of hugs, and kids fought for the privilege of sitting next to me in the classroom (a first for me!)
The children had written thank-you letters for the things that RBC is doing for them. Many of the kids stood up and read me their letters, and some read to me from their writing journals. I was touched to the point of tears. One boy told me that he has wanted to go to a museum his WHOLE LIFE, and this year he will be able to go on the field trip because of the people from our church who paid for it for him. He also told me now he can think better in school because he’s not thinking about his tummy being hungry. One child said I was “such a nice teacher.” When I asked why he thought I was a teacher, he said it was because teachers are the ones who love you and take care of you, so I must be a teacher since I was getting people to give the children snacks. Kind of makes you think.
Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t perfect little Stepford children with large puppy dog eyes. These are real kids. Charming, silly, serious, thoughtful, impish, studious, sometimes disobedient, always enthusiastic and energetic, children. What overwhelmed me was that all of them were respectful and grateful. Both the haves and the have-nots were appreciative of all that RBC has done for their school. There was no sense of entitlement. Just thankfulness. It was humbling to realize how infrequently I am just thankful for what I have been given.
So there you have it. Don’t volunteer at Guilford, because once you meet the kids, suddenly it becomes about people, not programs. It becomes about justice and mercy and grace and love and sharing it with what Jesus called the “least of these”. So don’t do it, because try as hard as you can, I don’t think you can close your heart door to the “least of these” once the Lord has opened it.
(Click on the images to the right to read a few of the letters from Guilford students.)