The first time the Mandela Washington Fellows at BSU heard Jim Orcutt, Co-Founder of “My Brother’s Keeper”, talk about this Christian Ministry of service and education, I was not there. What stood out for me (from the conversations I had with the fellows who had heard him share the story of how he and his wife had started from very humble beginnings what is now a non profit organisation with a 4 million dollar annual budget) was that they had seen God in him. This thread run through every single conversation I had with the fellows, irrespective of their religious backgrounds or whether they believed in God at all. I later got to hear a story about someone who is Muslim who had asked him whether they could volunteer notwithstanding the fact that they were not Christian. Mr. Orcutt responded by saying that not only could they volunteer but that the people that the organisation serves are from all religious and social-cultural backgrounds as long as they are in need.
So when we had the opportunity to do community service at my brother’s keeper, yesterday, I was more than eager. When we arrived at their Easton facility in the morning, what first struck me was the fact that there was not a single signage that identified the building or premises. Instead, there was a life size statue of Jesus washing Peter’s feet near the entrance of the building. A depiction of a leader who served. The day began with a briefing of what we would be delivering that day, how we would go about doing it, what the corporate policies of My Brother’s Keeper are, and thereafter we had a tour of the building. I should highlight here, that My Brother’s keeper’s mission is to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those it serves. It does this by delivering furniture and food to those who need it.
I had mentioned earlier that the corporate policies of the organisation were explained to us and I will share a few of those policies to put into better context the experience I had that morning. The organisation is solely funded by private donations and does not receive Federal or State funds. My Brother’s Keeper does not have a prerequisites for one to receive a service from them. This means a person who needs food or furniture does not have to justify why they need help by an income statement or other document. Secondly, the delivery vehicles used are unmarked to protect the privacy and dignity of those who are being served. In addition, every person they have the privilege of serving is given a crucifix to convey the message that we are just the delivery people, and God is the person who delivered the food or furniture through us. And if the recipient declines the crucifix for religious reasons, the response should be “no problem, whoever your God is, that is the person who sent it”. The rationale is that it not the aim of the organisation to impose Christianity on people, but instead it is to give them hope.
The fellows were split into groups of 4 to 6 people, and we were designated a vehicle driven by a my brother’s keeper staff member. On this morning, we were tasked with making food deliveries to individuals who had called the day before in need of food. My group made five deliveries to different homes. There are several lessons that I learned and I will share a few. The first is that it is important not to judge a book by its cover. Poverty has many faces. Just because a person has a car parked in front of their house for instance does not mean they have food to put in their belly. The second lesson was in humility. That it is not easy for someone to ask another for help. This is what makes my brother’s keepers policies on having unmarked vehicle and no prerequisites for the service so important. Third, is that there is so much power in serving a person and not expecting a return, an explanation or a justification from them. We visited one home of a woman who was a first time user of my brother’s keepers services. She had heard about them from a friend (because they do not advertise their services- they work by word of mouth). After greeting her when we arrived and having some small talk about how she was, we ended the conversation with “God bless you and have a great day”. This woman was so grateful but at the same time I could see that she was so amazed that we did not ask an explanation of her. We didn’t need her to justify the kindness and love she was being shown. This woman stood at her door and stared at us until our van was out of sight. And I can imagine that in her mind she thought who are these people? How and why are they doing this? That is what my brother’s keeper is about. It about delivering more than just the food and the furniture, it truly is at the core about delivering HOPE.
When we returned to the Easton facility, we had lunch and then a feedback session where we shared what we had each learnt through the deliveries we made that day. We also took time to reflect on the lives that we had interacted with while we made those deliveries. During this session I cried. Not because I felt pity for the people we had served, but because by taking part in my Brother’s Keeper’s ministry to others, my own heart was ministered unto. We then ended the day with a prayer of thanksgiving and together said the Lord’s prayer.
The volunteering experience that I had yesterday is something I will keep in my heart forever. There are so many other things that I learnt about social entrepreneurship and service as a leader other than what I have shared above, but those lessons are for another blog. And I will end this with a verse that encapsulates my brother’s keepers work of service “Whatever you do for the most humble of my people, you do for me.” Matthew 25:40
We should all be our brother’s keepers.