On Saturday, November 21, I met two men—Anthony and James. The first thing you need to know about these men is that they are made in the image in God, which, if you boiled it down to its essence, means that traces of divine glory and beauty can be found in every single person. The other characteristic thing about these men is that neither of them have a home. I was participating in an event called Feed the 500, a day of ministry to the City's homeless, coordinated by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's New York City Urban Project (NYCUP). This day was key in making me realize two things—first, that every human being truly is beautiful and deserves to be cared for, and second, that ultimately, the one reason I can love is because I was loved first. We trickled into the NYCUP headquarters in Washington Heights, and the hundred student volunteers from around the City broke into teams making sandwiches, writing notes of encouragement, and stuffing brown paper bags with our freshly-made meals. Meanwhile, I was pleased with how gratifying this all was. We were being so nice, taking time out of our Saturdays and feeding people who didn't have a dining hall into which they could swipe their meal cards. I surveyed the tables lined with rolled-up paper bags, and I said a quick prayer that these meals would change someone's day for the better. All that was wonderful until Jonathan Walton, the director of NYCUP, asked each student to take two lunch bags and begin our mission for the afternoon. One lunch, he said, was for the person without a meal and the other was for us. Apparently it was so that we would sit with the person receiving the meal and eat with him. Deep down this is not what I wanted to hear. I longed to not have to get my hands dirty, to be able to hand the poor and needy a lunch while remaining warm, safe and cozy in my fifty dollar Columbia sweatshirt. But that was not what I got. Before we left, Jonathan reminded us all why we were doing this in the first place. As a group of Christians trying to live out our faith, "we love because he (God) first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Because God loved the people of His creation so much, He died for all the selfishness, hatred and pride in our hearts and rose again so that we could be with Him. These words moved me. If there is a God who loves me without limits so much so that He would die for me, surely with his help I can love the people around me without limits as to how comfortable I am, how safe I feel, or how much time they carve out of my afternoon. With those words in the back of my mind and with bags of sandwiches filling my arms, my group left Washington Heights for our assigned strip of the city. It was not long before we encountered two men on a park bench. One was bent over, asleep, and the other was organizing his few belongings into some trash bags. A little hesitant at first, my friends and I approached the man who was awake and said, "We're from the New York City Urban Project would you like something to eat?" He agreed, and we spent the next hour and forty-five minutes talking to Anthony, hearing of all sorts of things from how he had run three marathons to how he had messed up his marriage and lost his wife, his money and the custody of his child. James, the man who had been sleeping, woke up and began eating several sandwiches, saying a few grateful words here and there and explaining to us why it was hard for him to stand up straight and even hold on to his food. I was filled with so much happiness when both of them laughed from time to time, for I saw a little glimpse of the beauty infused into them, and I imagined God laughing with joy along with us. It's easy enough to ladle soup into a bowl and hand it to someone, or even to write a check to a homeless shelter. I'm not trying to diminish the importance of either of those things, but, as Jonathan would say, what would it look like if we actually cared about the people around us and spent time actually loving them? New York would be a very different place if it wasn't so uncommon to see students, professors, doctors, and lawyers using the resources we have and not just caring for people in the workplace but in all the different places we find ourselves daily. If you feel that's impossible for you, like I often do, turn to Jesus. I guarantee you He will transform your life and fill you with his power to love. The author is a Barnard College sophomore. She is a small group leader on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Columbia Spectator Staff