Community Connections and the Faith in Action Coalition
by Kathy Watson
One morning the Faith in Action office got a distress call from an elderly, legally blind recipient. A volunteer driver had misunderstood a request and hadn’t arrived to take a woman I’ll call Anna to her doctor’s appointment at OHSU in Portland. The appointment was one in a series, therefore critical to her health. Rescheduling would have set a much-anticipated procedure back by months, and Anna was in tears over even the thought of that happening.
As “luck” would have it, my morning was flexible and I had my laptop with me that day, so I volunteered to step in and take her. When I arrived at Anna’s place, she was standing out on the curb, purse in hand, eager to get going. She checked to make sure I knew the way, got in, and proceeded to give precise directions well in advance of every turn, despite her visual impairment. Along the way we also talked about life; our families, careers, hobbies, and what we would do with the money if we ever won the lottery (which neither of us play so the odds aren’t great). I worked from a waiting room with a stunning view while she saw her specialist, and on the way back to Newberg we talked about the many organizations she had volunteered for before her health interfered—Faith in Action included. She was beside herself with gratitude that I had “laid down my life” for the morning to help her.
Stories like this one, of ordinary people of faith volunteering to help others stressed by some everyday need—a ride to the doctor, an overgrown yard, a broken front step, bird poo on a front window that he or she can’t reach, or respite from the 24/7/365 care of a kiddo experiencing special health needs, for example—happen every day around our area thanks to the Faith in Action coalition, of which Newberg Friends Church is a charter member since 1995. The Faith in Action coalition, now part of Providence Newberg Medical Center’s Community Connections department, which I currently manage, is the collaboration of more than 20 faith communities, business and industry partners, and service organizations that have come together to demonstrate God’s love by helping to meet the health needs of the poor and vulnerable along Highway 99W from King City to Dundee.
Together we coordinate the efforts of hundreds of volunteers each year. More than 800 volunteers served in 2014, and each in his or her own gifted way saw that of God in everyone they met, then proceeded to treat them as if that was all they saw. Volunteers from all walks of life and from a wide variety of faith traditions have come together to demonstrate that we care about all people. We care about those who don’t look like us, dress like us, share our personal values, aren’t our body type or use the same (if any) hygiene products and whose advantages in life might have been vastly different from ours. We encounter people who process information differently, and therefore make different choices than we would. Sometimes their bodies work different from ours and we have to adapt. Yet with God’s grace, we look past “what’s wrong” to see “what is right.” We see each person’s intrinsic value, a God-given sweet spirit, in order to connect to some of our area’s most isolated and lonely neighbors.
I believe that God calls everyone to care about something so that all things will be cared for. There are a lot of great ministries in our community worthy of our support, and I am grateful that, in our abundance, Newberg Friends supports several, including Faith in Action, the one God has called me to lead and many of you to volunteer for. Thank you for 20 great years of support.
I also believe that when we choose to see that of God in everyone we can glimpse his kingdom in the here and now. Jesus said of those who inherit the kingdom, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36). We take literally Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 19:19; 23:39; Mark 12:13; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:15; James 2:8), recognizing that it’s not always comfortable or convenient but that it will be both rewarding and enlightening—a genuine kingdom experience, when we do.
We could have truthfully told Anna that there wasn’t another volunteer driver to take her to her appointment. Staff isn’t supposed to be out of the office filling requests because it diminishes our limited resources to recruit, screen, train, and coordinate volunteers to fulfill the multitude of other requests we regularly have on tap. However, God knew
Anna’s need that morning, and he also knew mine. It may be “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but nearly every Faith in Action volunteer will tell you, it’s difficult to out-give the Lord and it is by giving that we receive. I really enjoyed spending the morning with Anna. Showing up for her that day blessed us both in ways I will never forget, and I received much, much more than I gave. I experienced the “Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven” that morning, as do many Faith in Action volunteers on a regular basis. It is a beautiful privilege for me to be called to this work. Join us if you’d like. The more the merrier. To find out about the variety of volunteer opportunities, call Community Connections/Faith in Action at 503-537-1549.