A long time ago, I was a missionary. I didn’t convert souls for Christ. That’s not our common understanding of mission in the United Church of Christ. Instead, I hosted church group after church group in the small town of Martin, Kentucky. I introduced them to the work that was being done by good people in this town. I worked beside them in painting, caulking and even demolishing so that new life could grow. I helped them cook. I led them in worship. And then, one day of that week, I asked them to not to work. I asked them to engage their own understanding of economic justice. Technically, I wasn’t a missionary at all. I was an volunteer intern for the UCC program Faithful Advocates Serving Together — where our hope was always to create advocates that would go home from this week-long experience and work for change.
I worked with other volunteer interns whom I now know mostly through social media connections. Last year, I had the unique blessing of officiating at the wedding of the volunteer intern that I spent most of my time with in Kentucky. She’s the one that I call whenever I step into a dollar store simply because it reminds me of our time together (which I did this weekend). And then, there’s my friend Audrey who was recently featured in this article on Gay Harassment and the Struggle for Inclusion. The article is more than a month old but I found it today. Audrey is one of those unique people that came into my path that summer in Kentucky. She was a volunteer intern through the same program in another town but we met up on weekends and learned about things like mountain top removal and the coal industry. We drank beer and digested what had happened during that week. (If you’ve ever taught about economic justice, you know there’s a lot to digest.) As I read these words in the New York Times, I’m reminded of her wisdom and courage. I mean. Seriously. Listen to her:
“It may sound extreme,” Ms. Connor said, “but Tyler Clementi is someone who died in a battle that many clergy and religious people are fighting. For inclusion. For our understanding of what God wants the world to be.”
How can I not thank God that Audrey came into my life? How can I not marvel at what we shared together over 10 months in Appalachia? How can I not find new energy in the work that we continue to do together though miles apart? How can it not be good news that Audrey and I met so many years ago?
It is indeed good news. It is always good news when we find sojourners on the journey — especially those faithful that are vigilant in their pursuit for love and justice. This is only one of those wonderful people in my circle — and I’m so grateful for her.