By Chandler Poling, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #204
After graduation from high school, I decided to enter Brethren Volunteer Service. I spent a year (1992-1993) at San Antonio Catholic Worker House, an intentional community that provided hospitality to families and individuals who needed a place to live or a hot meal.
On weekdays, we cooked a hot lunch and served it to roughly 50 people. We offered four rooms for families who needed a temporary place to live. We met basic needs, but the real aim of the work was solidarity. Families and workers lived in the same house, prayed, and ate meals together. Our guests were sometimes grateful and cooperative, sometimes manipulative or aggressive. Some were mothers fleeing a violent husband. Some, with breath smelling of alcohol, came every day for lunch before returning to their spot under the bridge. The abstract idea of “the homeless” was no longer meaningful to me as I built relationships with real human beings: Cowboy, Katharine, Juan, and others.
When I was a child, my family never missed a meal or worried about where we would sleep that night. I never feared that dad or mom would come home drunk or stay out late. I never feared violence or verbal abuse. I never realized that life could be any different for other people.
Those of us who have all our needs met face a temptation when thinking about people who are “poor,” “homeless,” or “mentally ill.” We may be tempted to blame them for their situation, or dismiss them as “bums.” On the other hand, we might romanticize them as victims, and offer condescending charity. Both responses dismiss the full humanity of our struggling brothers and sisters. The “poor” are not all the same. Each is a human person made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of love, yet vulnerable to the same frailties as all of us.
BVS allowed me to build relationships with people I never would have met, and this changed my heart, making me more aware of the value of each person. As Jesus said: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” When we listen and share our lives with those who are in need, we encounter Jesus, and our hearts are transformed.
Chandler Poling lives in Vermont with his wife, Stefanie, and three children: Elias, Mariam, and John. He teaches music and works in a non-proﬁt whose goal is to end homelessness.
This reflection was originally featured in the summer issue of “The Volunteer,” a publication by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren and upcoming opportunities to grow in relationships and be transformed at www.brethren.org/bvs. Support BVS today at www.brethren.org/giveBVS.