Befriending the Stranger: My MCC experience

Unfortunately the demands of finishing the semester strong led to the neglect of this blog in the month of April.  However now that the school year is fading fast in my rearview mirror I look forward to blogging with renewed vigour.  I will pick up my forgiveness blog again in the near future but for now I wish to share an old blog about my experience working for the MCC thrift store in Mission last summer.  Originally published January 22, 2010:

This blog is long overdue. It describes the positive impression my summer 2009 experience of the community at the MCC thrift shop in Mission B.C. has made on me. The store’s work/volunteer force is comprised of people from varying backgrounds–the old and the young, the profound and the profane, the able and disabled.  The eclectic mix of volunteers represented to me a taste of what community is supposed to be like: the struggles, friendships, annoyance, and affection were often on par with the intensity reflected in extended families.

What sticks out to me however is not the dysfunction (every community/family has this to be sure) but rather the place of belonging that everyone had in this community. The common refrain of one of the managers at MCC was: “there’s a place for everyone at God’s table”. This saying, I soon found out, is the furthest thing from a cliché when it is actually practiced.

During my time at MCC Mission part of my role was to lead the morning devotion. After observing the community for a few days I could think of nothing more fitting than using excerpts from Jean Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger for the daily readings. The book is based on a series of talks given by Jean Vanier at a retreat for people involved with his famous l’Arche Communities. The basic theme of this book is the gospel message that Jesus came to the world to welcome the “stranger” whoever that may be, into his community. As Christians, Vanier says, we too were formerly strangers and so we too must learn to welcome the other—especially those difficult to love. What is amazing about Vanier is that his message not only holds up to the ideals of Scripture but also escapes accusations of slipping into naivety since he as actually been able to put into practice. In doing so Vanier displays incredible wisdom about the human condition and how Jesus is able to meet us wherever we are.

The reason why Vanier’s book was so fitting for the MCC community was because it could have just as easily been written to us as it was to L’Arche. MCC was a community of diversity—a place where the stranger was not only the person dropping off or buying items but also the one with whom you would work with. Because of this the community often felt the tension of the stranger. Frustration as to why this person couldn’t follow simple direction, why that person couldn’t figure out how to take a shower, or why the other simply refused to be open to change often plagued me, and I trust my co-workers as well. In the end however this is what community is all about. It’s easy enough to be with friends but it is tricky, demanding, and exhausting to try to welcome the stranger. I should also say that being a friend of the stranger is one of the most worthwhile tasks I have ever tried to participate in. My few months at MCC have given me unexpected, and hopefully life-long friends. I especially cherish the ones with cognitive disabilities—never in my life have I encountered people so warm, welcoming, and friendly. In their smiling faces I immediately saw something of which I wanted to be a part. Sometimes it makes me wonder which one of us was the real stranger after all…