This past weekend, I experienced an opportunity to serve at a soup kitchen in downtown Chicago. The lure of the experience and serving was exciting as we began our trek into the church basement which housed the soup kitchen. Our first hour was filled with chopping, cutting and preparing food for the hungry men and women waiting outside for their meal. After this, the food was ready and we organized ourselves to dish up the food and pass it through a small window, which was the portal between the kitchen and the sitting area for the hungry visitors. We served the food with a smile and a few friendly words for the next hour. As we scraped the bottom of the several bowls and skillets, the last of 75 people received their hot meal for the day. After our job was complete, we busied ourselves with clean up and small talk. At that point a strange lure came over me that I can’t explain well in words.. At that point, I felt that I didn’t come all this way just to stay in this kitchen and watch the people through this small window. What could I offer to the homeless men and women on the other side? Without really knowing what to offer, I just thought I would slip out of the kitchen and say good-bye to the homeless as they brought their dirty trays to the window. As I stood there, I thought to myself, “hey, I still have my plastic gloves on from serving the food, so why not take their trays as an act of kindness and wish them well as they leave?”
It was if it little voice in my head said, “A handshake is a way to affirm and acknowledge the importance of a person.” It’s true. We shake hands at church, after a business deal, as a way of meeting a new person etc. I wondered,” When was the last time each man in this cafeteria was acknowledged as a human with another humans touch and handshake?” I was going to find out.
So I took the tray of the next man and extended my right hand to theirs, ready for a shake. Oops, I realized I still had my plastic glove on. Did I want another barrier between my clean hand and their dirty, weathered skin? I quickly took off the glove on my right hand so I could have that hand-to hand contact. Thus the fulfillment and joy began until the last man (and two women) left that basement cafeteria.
Now I know I was supposed to be in the soup kitchen that day. It was more than just serving a hot meal to a hungry person; it was connecting with another human who was just as important to God as I was. It was not being afraid to take the dirty hand and tell them I wanted them to be safe and come back again for another meal.
What if I had stayed behind that window…behind that safe kitchen wall in my safe little bubble? What if I was content to watch the homeless world go by me as I watched through the little kitchen window?
What side of the window are you looking through? Are you ready to go through the door and past your wall of safety? Are you ready to for God to tell you to take off your gloves and get dirty? Are you ready to stand next to someone who is different than you are?
Be willing to get dirty and experience the joy of serving others less fortunate than you.
By Jeff France
Board Member: LifeTouch Ministries, Inc.