Mary Olen, Administrative Assistant, Retreat Administrative Coordinator
Why do I stay up watching one more episode of Fargo when I have to work in the morning? Why do I eat that third piece of chicken when I was full after the second piece? Why did I offer to write this blog when I despise writing? Those are the difficult questions! Why we minister? That is much easier.
Leaving Martin’s supermarket, I have a trunk full of groceries and two kids strapped into the backseat. As I pull out onto Elwood Street heading home, I notice a young woman struggling to juggle groceries and a toddler while standing at the bus stop. I pull up to the curb and ask if she would like a ride. She eagerly and gratefully accepts. We make room to pack them into our little Saturn wagon. Driving several miles to the west-side on Indiana Avenue, she points to the building where I should pull over. Mentioning how far she has to travel to grocery shop, she tells me the commute takes her downtown where she transfers buses. The block we are on is not residential and she motions to a door on the side street. We gather her bags and trudge up the stairs which empties into a single dingy room above an abandoned business front. There is one wooden table with 2 chairs, a bed, and a sink. I am ready to drop the groceries and get the heck out of there as she reaches for a bible from the bed and tells me how she is trying to get her life together. She has done a lot of drugs in the past and knows that she needs to stop. Calling me an angel, she believes that God sent me to help her that day. I laugh and tell her I am about as far from an angel as there could be but that I was happy I could be of some help. “Keep praying,” I say “I will pray for you, too.”
Days later, my daughter asked why I picked up a person on the street that I did not know. I told her it was because she seemed like she needed help and I felt sorry for her. As soon as the words were leaving my lips, memories shot back into my mind: my mom taking prepared meals to elderly neighbors, buying extra groceries for a single mom who lived in a rundown house at the end of the alley- witnessing those acts of kindness made a deep impression on me. Are we born with compassion or are we taught compassion? Is caring and compassion what fuels our desire to minister? Did 12 years of Catholic education make a difference? I believe yes is the answer.
The awesome part of ministering is that it often has a retroactive effect. I left the apartment of a stranger I helped and it made me more humble, more grateful, more present and alive to all the blessings in my life. “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” My encounter with a stranger ministered to my children. You do not need an invitation to assist. Ministering is just aiding someone in need or just sitting still for someone who needs a listening ear. We do it every day. Why? Well, that depends on who you are.
So, here I am in Campus Ministry. I am not a minister by definition. I do not hold an MDiv., not even a minor in Theology. As an Administrative Assistant, I minister all day long: to students, to the staff I support, to the people who just drop by because they are visiting campus. But, that is my job. I believe that the true ministering is done with perfect strangers, not expecting anything out of the ordinary who are suddenly given a smile, a hello, a ride as they are standing in the rain waiting for a bus, or given a place in line at the store because they look like they’re in a hurry. Each of these people are being noticed. In that small instance of acknowledgment, they feel loved. Isn’t that what everyone really wants? We seek to minister because we love and we are able to minister because we have witnessed it. Amen.