Monday, September 28, 2009

Straight Paths

I stood back and observed as men pulled groceries from shelves and filled bags with what the waiting women would turn into meals to feed their families. In what might have been a somber setting, I was struck by all the good cheer.

The men horsed around like teenage boys in a locker room. They teased each other and burst out in belly laughter as one or the other suffered the brunt of an inside joke.

The cheer was infectious. The women, those who had come into the Norcross Cooperative Ministry (NCM) with their heads hung low, now couldn’t help but to crack a smile. Not only were they happy to receive the much needed groceries, their spirits were lifted by the sounds of jovial fellowship that filled the food pantry.

I asked the men why they volunteer. Each had an interesting and inspiring story.

One gentleman readily admitted he first came to NCM as the result of court ordered community service. “When I was drinking I thought it was all about me,” he said. “But then I came here and saw that my selfishness was nothing but foolishness. When you witness someone brought to tears when you give them a few cans of beans and a loaf of bread, it changes your perspective. How could alcohol mean so much to me when these people were going hungry?”

This man now volunteers twelve hours a week on his own accord. Sober, saved and grateful, he turned away from me and insisted on helping a woman carry her bags of groceries to her car.

Another volunteer told me he once came to NCM as a client in need of food. “I was down on my luck and just couldn’t make ends meet,” he said. “But everyone here was so good to me I just felt I needed to give back.”

That was three years ago; today he hands food to others in need with a special compassion in his heart. He knows what they are going through, and he gives them hope that things will get better. “God is good all the time,” he said as he winked at me and then opened a case of canned goods. He began to restock the shelves and in spite of his disability, he worked swiftly.

A third man joined the conversation. “God has blessed us all,” he said, “and we want to help others just like Jesus did. I first came here a year ago because of Compassion in Action, but I got hooked on it.” He now volunteers one day a week. “I’m retired now,” he added, “and want to use my time in meaningful ways. Working here has made me passionate about helping people.” He then pointed to a fourth man. “You should talk to him,” he suggested, “he’s been here longer than any of us.”

I approached this gentleman; he is a little older than the others and he looked tired. For good reason, I learned. Today is his first day back after taking a break for cancer treatment. I also learned that his wife, his customary companion when he works at NCM, is receiving treatment for the same disease. She is not yet strong enough to return to volunteering.

“She wanted me to come back as soon as I could,” he told me, speaking of his wife. “We come to share the good news, to demonstrate the love of Christ. I’m here for both of us until she gets stronger.”

Many of the women who turn to NCM for food do not speak English, but they understand laughter, smiles, gentle nods of reassurance, and the love that is extended to them by the men who show up to serve them. The men I met that morning; men of different walks of life, but men who were now all walking along the same straight path.

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