The most important resource for anyone in any situation is in a relationship. Whether on the road of recovery and wholeness, in material need, or fulfillment in life, connection is the priceless resource. Relationship is intense and demanding, giving and receiving. Because feelings and emotions are involved, it can be painful and exasperating. But it is also rewarding and fulfilling.
It is easy to give out money to a person in poverty; and if you have plenty of it, you may not even think about the act of charity, nor feel it. I am saying you can choose not to be involved emotionally. Similarly you can donate food for the hungry and those in homelessness. It is possible to serve in a soup kitchen and not get your emotions involved.
Developing and cultivating a relationship with a person in need is different. And that is what the person needs to experience transformation. It is emotional on both sides and that is why it is best avoided. Issues of trust, vulnerability, compassion and empathy make the whole dynamic too involved and uncomfortable.
Yet, again, the only way to transformation for people facing adversity, is through relationship.
Here is an example: On my first day as a volunteer for Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington, at the entrance hallway, I ran into someone from the same parish I go to. When our eyes met he asked, “what are you doing here?” and I asked, “what are you doing here?” He explained that he brought a young man to the ministry to see what resources were available for his need.
The young man was once employed by a maintenance company that worked for the parish. Recently the parish changed, or switched contractors, and as a result the young man lost his job. It was the right direction, to see what help was available through Samaritan Ministry, so I showed them where to go and we went our separate ways.
A couple of months later I ran into my friend again at church in between services. I asked him about his visit and any developments. He gave a deep sigh. “Oh, man”, he said. “What an ordeal it has become!”. What began as a quest for a job, the intake, evaluation and orientation process uncovered health issues, education, housing, transport and so on. It turned out that finding a job would be fruitless if the other issues were not addressed.
Without a relationship true transformation may not come about.
I witnessed City Gospel Mission evolve into a relationship-based ministry with the goal of transformation. Similarly, Crossroad Health Center where I was a volunteer chaplain was founded on the principle of relationship between the medical personnel and the community they served – the latter being for the most par people of low income, in recovery, and even facing homelessness.
I have emphasized again and again, my own transformation experience with, for example, Bible Study groups at Christ Church Cathedral and St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill.
But first, relationships develop from connections.
“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives; and without it there is suffering” (Brene Brown).
Whether we acknowledge and accept that we are, as human beings, connected, or reject it, the fact is, as Brene Brown states, we are wired to connect with others.
I went for my annual eye check up (because of diabetes) and after the initial tests and imaging and so on, the technician led me to the doctor’s examination room. Momentarily he walked in and after a brief introduction and greetings he pulled a stool in front of me and proceeded to swing the usual array of lenses and lights as he peered into my eyes. He made brief comments, asked a question here and there, then suddenly he asked: “where did you grow up?”
There was nothing unusual about the question. In any conversation, sooner or later, because of my accent, I expect the question. I told him I grew up in Tanzania.
“In Arusha?” he asked.
“Moshi, actually”, I responded, “fifty miles east of Arusha”. Then I added my signature identity phrase, “on the slopes of Kilimanjaro”. Then it was my turn to ask him if he had been to Arusha.
“I was there for three months. I also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I informed him that in all probability he must have gone through ny home village during the hike up the mountain and could have stayed in the village for acclimatization. As he concluded his examination he practiced a few Swahili words and phrases, then we bade each other goodbye.
So, here we were, two strangers connected by different experiences in different geographical locations. We can dismiss that as nothing more than chance. I know nothing happens by chance, good or bad luck, or coincidence. True, in Washington, for example, there is higher possibility of interacting with people who have been about any place on earth, but that is only relative to probability.
What about, Cincinnati, for another example?
On my first day as a volunteer chaplain at a local healthcare clinic, as the medical director showed me around the facility and introduced me to the staff, we came to Kyle. After the introduction Kyle asked me, “habari za siku nyingi?” (how is everything, in Swahili). He did not look like, and he is not Mswahili. But, as it turned out, Kyle had been a medical missionary in a remote village in Tanzania, and, here again, we were connected even without my famous slopes of Kilimanjaro for reason This connection has grown and continues to this day.
Chance, or coincidence? Certainly not. There are more examples.