I met Gwen about 3 years ago. She was volunteering in the children’s center at the homeless shelter I worked at in southern California. Gwen’s heart was overflowing with love for “our” kids. She volunteered over 20 hours a week; teaching the alphabet, changing diapers, wiping noses, bandaging booboo’s and most of all being a consistent presence in the life of children who had never had consistency.
Gwen and Andrew
After a few months of Gwen working with us her husband lost his job. She came to us in tears telling us that she would no longer be able to volunteer because they could no longer afford child care for their preschool aged son (and he was to young to “volunteer” at the shelter). It was pitched to the shelter leadership that we could not loose such a wonderful volunteer and it was asked that she be able to bring her son to the shelter with her. The proposal was accepted by both Gwen and leadership.
Thus began Gwen and Andrew’s service to the shelter. For Andrew, who was just 4 yrs old at the time, it was hardly work. All he knew was that he switched to a new preschool, where is mom “worked”. Each day I watched Andrew play with the kids in the shelter, developing friendships with children who were never in place long enough to make friends. Andrew had no idea that he was actually serving in ministry alongside his mom (and sometimes his dad too).
My love and respect for Andrew grew. I watched him play with his friends. He didn’t care that they lived in a homeless shelter, he loved them for who they were, not the circumstances they lived in. My love and respect for Gwen grew, because she modeled that love for her son. By her loving those children and their mothers for who they were, Andrew felt safe and confidant to do the same.
I would watch Gwen and tell myself I wanted to be a mom like her someday. One that not only raises my children to love those that society sees as unlovable, but one who models it to my children.
So here I am, a mom. And I am able to follow Gwen’s example to me, by teaching Imogen to love all people. And now here in Portland, I’m proud to tell people that my daughter goes to daycare in a homeless shelter. I’m proud to bring Imogen to work with me and allow her to interact with and get to know (as best as a 1 year old can) the women who live at the shelter I now work at. I look forward to seeing her grow up feeling safe and confidant to love those who society deems as the least, the last and the lost. She will call them her friends. Like Gwen and Andrew, I count it as a gift to serve in ministry not just alongside my husband, but alongside my daughter as well.
Thank you Andrew for showing me that ministry has no age restrictions. Thank you Gwen for modeling for me what a mother’s job is, to teach her children to love.