Nearly 20 years ago Lisa and I set out on our honeymoon and landed in the most unlikely of places to begin our lives together, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Volunteering had always been important to us as we knew that doing great work comes at a great cost, and the gift of time makes a huge difference. We signed up to volunteer at Mother Theresa’s Mission. “Love” was the theme, the guide, and the motto that infused their programs, “Anything done in love is worth its’ ‘weight in gold’” we were often reminded. A cranky old nun berated me once when she heard me trying to learn some language – “Your Bengali is terrible, that’s not what anyone wants to hear in their last moments in earth, for goodness sake, stop it, they are in enough pain already, just love them!” Training for working in the orphanage and home for the dying took a little over an hour, as instructions on how to provide basic palliative care in a desperate situation or changing nappies for a child no bigger than a small soft toy didn’t take long. What we didn’t realise though, was that we were embarking on a lifelong journey in learning about how the power of love can break into even the most hopeless of situations.
Mother Theresa would often address crowds in Australia in a confronting manner, “You need me more than the lepers of Calcutta (sic) because loneliness is the leprosy of the west.” Our best people at Wayside Chapel realise that we aren’t here just to do good things for others. Aboriginal activist Lila Watson once wrote, “If you have come here because you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come here because somehow your liberation is tied up in mine, then let’s walk together.” We all crave community and connection and we weave a healthy tapestry of both as we learn to love. The training may last a day in how to volunteer, but the lessons in patience, kindness, and compassion take us all a lifetime so that we can truly know what it means to walk together in community where there is no “us and them.” I would dare to go so far as to say that true wealth lies in knowing that poverty isn’t just about a lack of cash, it’s also about a heart that doesn’t have hope or a life lived without purpose, which can affect us all.
I get just as excited about someone getting their life back together as I do about someone who skips into their volunteer shift having discovered their purpose in life through service. A long-term volunteer, who is like a grandma to many here quietly told me, “I didn’t quite know what to expect when I began volunteering here, but, and I don’t mean to brag, I’m now quite the expert on picking a bra size by sight, not bad hey?” She knows all of our visitors by name and treats them as if they were her very own.
Our mission only truly comes to life through our diversity. We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers, so this week, on National Volunteer Week, we thank all who give so generously of themselves to find life by the Wayside.
Thanks for being part of our amazing Inner Circle,
PS. Don’t forget that tonight from 5.45pm, you can witness the power of Wayside Chapel’s community right from your own home. Hear from three of our frontline staff about our innovative and life-changing programs and support us by participating in this fun and engaging online social impact event, or just sit back and hear about the work that we do. There are still spots available, click here to register.
Pastor & CEO