“Once you look people in the eye, it’s harder to forget that they’re human, that they’re struggling, that God loves the man who just stepped on your foot and didn’t apologize or the woman who shoved her way onto an already crowded train at the last second – God loves that person just as much as God loves you.”
– Kerry Weber (MVC Alumni), “Mercy in the City”
A little over a month ago, I moved from Cleveland to Philadelphia to commit myself to living out a year of mercy and service. Mercy Volunteer Corps placed me with Broad Street Ministry (BSM), a hospitality collaborative that provides social services to the most vulnerable people in downtown Philly. At BSM, we serve 7 meals a week, distribute clothing and personal care items, offer a mailing address and mail services, enlist case managers who provide personalized assistance, offer opportunities for art and music therapy, and various other partner services come in weekly such as benefits counselors and medical nurses. It’s hard not to feel like a merciful person when you’re a part of a team that does such beautiful ministry.
As I continue to work at BSM and grow into the ministry, I’m realizing that my understanding and practice of mercy has been very limited. I’ve felt merciful when I forgave a friend after forgetting my birthday, or when I offered a patient smile to a cashier who gave me the wrong change; those practices of mercy are easy. What about when I’m walking down the street and see a man in rags sitting on dirty cardboard? Do I offer that same forgiveness when he takes my time to ask for money? Do I lend the same kind smile? More often than not, I’d suddenly become very invested in something on my phone and casually walk by as if nobody was there. Where does God exist in that exchange?
People can experience poverty in many forms: physical, spiritual, relational. When someone resides on the streets, they experience the scarcity of visibility. Their humanity and dignity are not acknowledged as passersby avert their eyes, their voices being silenced by those not wanting to be inconvenienced. In my month at BSM, I’ve seen those same silenced people regain their voices once they walk through our doors. They are often greeted by name and are empowered to ask the staff or volunteers if they need anything, knowing they’ll be heard.
The mercy at Broad Street isn’t limited to those who are religious, or well-dressed, or sober, or clean-smelling. Mercy knows no social rules. The wonderful guests at BSM aren’t any different from the people you pass on the street; what makes them wonderful is that we’ve taken the time to see them, to hear what they have to say, to give them the opportunity to be wonderful. Mercy doesn’t transform them into someone new; it accepts them exactly as they are. Rather, mercy has been transforming me: into a better, more patient, more loving person. When you work somewhere that’s first priority is to serve to the dignity of each person, it’s hard not to acknowledge that same dignity once you leave the doors. I’m grateful for the opportunity and MVC for giving me the attitude of mercy, to BSM for giving me the tools to practice it, and to the guests I’ve met for giving me the opportunity to realize the room for growth in my life.
Maureen Kelly: Broad Street Ministry, Philadelphia, PA