Today, Saturday 21st, 2015, I went on a food drive. This food drive was to help the Sexsmith Fire Department collect non-perishable food items for the homeless of Grande Prairie. I and my Evangelism class traipsed through the snow, rode in the fire trucks, got pulled along by a horse and carriage, all the while knocking on local peoples' doors and asking them for donations to the cause. Initially when I thought of this outreach event during the days leading up to it, I found myself dreading it. It would mean I would have to extend past my comfort zone and say words to people I didn't know for three to four hours on a Saturday I could otherwise be using to catch up on sleep. It would mean working together with a large group of people to accomplish a necessary task--only necessary because it's an assignment and I get graded on it--when what I thought I needed was a break from people altogether.
I also felt inadequate and like I wouldn't be much help because of my lacking social skills and having almost no experience in the area of outreaching. What I discovered as I found my way to the fire hall at 10:15 in the morning and joined one of three teams dispersing throughout town was that nobody really cared about experience or social skills. All they were asking for was our participation, in whatever way we could give of our time. The people working at the fire hall were thankful enough that many of us were willing to come out on a snowy morning and volunteer our services. Technically, it was an assignment, so we had to do it, but luckily, I got over that mindset quickly. I realized over the next few hours of knocking on doors that even though it doesn't come easily to everyone, the point is that we made the effort to reach out and to help others to reach out as well. One elderly man actually ran after my partner and I as we were walking away, and gave me a hug in appreciation as I took his bag. There were several children along the way who waited in glee with their parents for the fire truck to come their way, and then they presented their bags of food items with joyful smiles. It’s so easy as we grow older to lose joy in giving and to do it simply out of duty. The children and the elderly were more than happy to attend to the needs of the homeless in these small but helpful ways, so it encouraged me to have a heart of desire to do such things. I actually found myself having fun and enjoying the work that we were doing. I felt encouraged even as people handed over small amounts, because I was beginning to realize the benefits of giving even when I don't have much. Little bits from a lot of people will add up and end up helping in more ways than just in financial cases, and usually will be beneficial to all parties involved.
I learned a valuable thing about evangelism as a whole. Although I didn't get the chance to strike up a conversation about the Gospel message with anyone, I did get to experience others doing so. I also got to see evangelism being worked out in a new way, one I would not have expected to be productive and effective. The biggest thing I got out of it was that evangelism in subtlety can often be one of the best ways to arouse curiosity in people. Even the simplicity of gathering food for the less fortunate can be an incentive for people to ask about our motives behind the act. Assuming our motives are pure and intentional, people are likely to ask questions about our faith, which could lead to them being curious about God.
My attitude got better as the day went on and I found myself wanting to do more, even as things came to a close and we headed back to the fire hall to eat hamburgers. One major thing I learned about myself was that I find great joy in helping people. It takes effort to actually get outside and start something, but it usually ends up being worth it when the day is done. I figure if I want to impact the outside world in some way or another, I may as well start in my community and work up to bigger things.
The compassion of a firefighter moved me to recognize that some firemen are not simply living up to what's expected of them, but they're going beyond the expectations. After four of us students had done some last minute food collecting, we were heading back to the fire hall in a fire truck, and the driver stopped when he saw an elderly woman shoveling her driveway. He knew he should probably get back to the fire hall because that's where everyone else was headed, but he stopped, got out of the vehicle, and shoveled the driveway. Two students also helped shovel the sidewalk, and they did so without hesitation. Simple acts like this can go a long way for some people, and it certainly showed me that it's not hard to do. You don't have to be an accomplished person to stop by and help someone in need, but at the same time, you can be accomplished and still desire to go past what's expected of you. If you're only going about your life fulfilling your duties and not constantly seeking to do more, you won't really gain a whole lot. I felt encouraged as I saw God working through the community of Sexsmith on Saturday, through the food drive and beyond.