Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Herding Butterflies

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Herding Butterflies

Article excerpt

What does it take to create community? A calm and tender manner isn't a bad place to start.

A few weeks ago, a little boy who is a faithful supporter of everything that goes on at Aunt Maggie's Kitchen Table arrived in our living room and handed out three envelopes. Inside were several little white pieces of paper that had been cut and stapled together. One piece of paper was left unstapled, and he had written on it "and I love you too" in his large, uneven, first-grade print. He gave it to us with such an expression of joy on his face. What a great gift.

This treasure will remain on my desk for a long while. I want it there as a constant reminder that the best work is being done among the community of the poor when those who are poor begin to realize what their riches are and how they can use their resources to help others. Everyone brings resources and gifts to the table. Sure, there are times when it's not as easy to discern what the gifts are, and at times it's not clear how they are to be used. But I've found that holding onto the belief that everyone has resources of some kind helps guard against burnout. It also guards against feelings of "them" and "us" that can become part of the attitude we hold toward those who need our help.

Aunt Maggie's Kitchen Table is a family resource center located in a Macon, Georgia-area public housing complex with severe gang problems, a high crime rate, and a large concentration of poverty. We began with a five-bedroom apartment and donated furniture, and--after we were in the community for six months--we obtained a three-bedroom apartment next door. The Macon Housing Authority said we surely had "special connections" to get approval so quickly.

Our special connection is to the people that we share life with in our center. We're attempting to faithfully respond to the grace God has given us and to the call to share our riches with those who have less. It's critical for us to find ways to make good connections with the community so that our work becomes a collaborative partnership. If we can keep this focus, the possibility of healing becomes much higher for those who are being helped and those who are helping. As the late Henri Nouwen said, "We are sharing our bandages." We must remember that we are wounded as much as our neighbors. Perhaps the manifestation of that woundedness is very different, but nonetheless we are wounded. We have come to this place to share our gifts because we are called to it and because we seek healing.

THE HOUSING COMPLEX holds a typical collection of folks with too little access to resources. There are 274 families--and more than 500 children--living here. There are 12 two-parent families and 50 senior citizens. The average income is $8,600 per year. The complex is located in one of Macon's historically black communities, and the economic level is mixed. The area, called Unionville, once thrived, but it now has few old and stable middle-class families and many highly mobile poor families. The poverty pockets in Unionville remind me of some who live in scandalous poverty in other parts of the world. This is one reason many of our visitors are surprised about the oasis we're creating at Aunt Maggie's Kitchen Table.

We intend to make space for something other than crime, poverty, and despair to grow in Unionville. …

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