(Special to The B.C. Catholic)
Luke 15 House residents in recovery are learning that community is not just within our four walls. We are finding that we need to reach as far as we can, and do as much as we can, to help others.
One way Luke 15 House has been learning this is through our weekly volunteer service to those in need at Surrey Urban Mission Society. The group is a faith-based community hub where the poor and marginalized are welcomed. It is a natural place for men in recovery to step outside of Luke 15 House and experience the joy of building a community that cares.
According to Sally (last name withheld upon request), SUMS operations coordinator, her group contributes to community building in many ways, especially at lunchtime, when up to 160 people come in, sit down, eat, and enjoy themselves.
Sally said her group's relationship with Luke 15 House volunteers is a vital part of the community. “We look forward to them coming every week. Everyone looks forward to (their visit).” Luke 15 also looks forward to being there and working with one another to bring the light of Christ to those we serve.
Early each Wednesday morning, Luke 15 House volunteers arrive at SUMS to work with Sally and many others to welcome those most in need. Coming from addiction, jail and/or detox facilities, it’s not always easy for us to express the love God has given to us. However, our time at SUMS has shown us how helping others together and building trusting relationships creates a strong sense of community.
Our first and strongest connection is with Sally. Sally says she likes having volunteers whom she can tell to do something, and she knows that they will do it. Consequently, she gives Luke 15 House volunteers work assignments reserved for the strong and the dependable, such as sorting large boxes of donations, moving freezers, and heavy cleaning. In the beginning, our relationship with Sally was all directional, but now, we feel that we are part of the SUMS team, with Sally as our coach.
Later in the morning, as they have done for years, another key part of the team arrives from St. Matthew’s Parish in Surrey. A large group brings food and more of the light of Christ into a community that is hungry for it. As men in recovery, we have suffered from addictions and we understand where guests now streaming through the doors of SUMS come from. This gives us a desire to serve as a beacon of hope.
As one of the volunteers from St. Matthew’s pointed out, “(Luke 15 volunteers) just seem to be joyful and happy. They help to take care of people, and they’re into (the work). They seem to see something of themselves in the guests and it comes out in a loving and joyful way.”
We help St. Matthew’s volunteers serve lunch to the guests at their tables. It’s very humbling to be there and to be giving back. It gets busy and there’s a lot of running back and forth with our arms filled with plates of food, but there is still time to look people in the eye and greet them. A huge part of building community is first connecting with others.
After seeing us regularly, the small talk progresses into joyful conversations as greetings lead to relationships. Every person at SUMS, whether staff, volunteer, or guest, plays an important role in building community.
One of our favourite examples of this is Don (last name withheld upon request), who single-handedly prepares the coffee for everyone who comes in the door. His specialty is perfectly mixed double-double, which is sought after even by the most die-hard black coffee drinkers.
“Probably because I put all of my love into it,” says Don. “When you put all you have into your coffee, everyone enjoys it.” SUMS guests are always happy when we serve them Don’s coffee, and it’s a great way to meet people.
After lunch, Luke 15 House volunteers are still in motion, functioning as a bonded unit of brothers – taking down tables, sweeping and mopping – to get the dining room ready for the next community function at SUMS. However, keeping this community hub running is not all about the physical work; the presence of God is at work as well.
“Just today, I got the guys to clean out the fridges, and within an hour, the health inspector came. They are part of God’s work in this place!”
In spite of the hard work, Luke 15 House volunteers always leave SUMS in a good mood, happy to be able to serve the community as Jesus did when he fed the multitudes and continues to do as he cares for us today. We all agree with what our brother in recovery, Clark, says about volunteering at SUMS, “It helps me out with my spiritual life, and it makes me feel good every time I do it.”
We do not look at our service at SUMS as just volunteer work, but as spiritual nourishment that builds community and strengthens us in our recovery program at Luke 15 House.
Ryan Prasad currently resides at Luke 15 House and has been volunteering with Surrey Urban Mission Society since January, 2017. Kathleen Shantz formerly served as interim executive assistant at Luke 15 House.