This year during Lent, Imago Dei Community will be exploring the theme "Hearing the Voice of God." The following is one in a collection of stories from community members about their experiences, challenges and questions around hearing from God and discerning His voice.
By Meg DuMez
I knew that was not the answer these college volunteers expected, but it was the truth. This group was one of many that joined us for Friday Night Stories that year. I had been serving every other week for about nine-months by the time they came around, and I was finally getting used to being on the corner of SE 82nd and Powell for three hours.
When visitors joined us for a night, they fell into a common rhythm. They exchanged nervous glances with one another and at cell phone screens as the regular team set up the table, small BBQ and hot dog supplies. They fumbled over what to do with purses or backpacks before finally taking them back to the car for the evening. And they attempted to slide silently behind the table, which was against the number one rule of Friday Night Stories: no hiding.
I’d heard about this program through Clark Blakeman, a member of my church and fellow Compassion Connect volunteer. My prior service experience had always centered on children. My mother and grandmother were teachers. I know all of the Disney princesses and VeggieTale songs. My drawing skills are barely above kindergarten level. Little people were, and still are, my happy place.
So when Clark shared with me about this program, I remember nodding in appreciation and thinking, “not for Meg.” It sounded terrifying to stand on a busy street corner for several hours, talking with strangers and handing out free hot dogs. I’d moved to Portland a few years earlier but still felt unsettled. And here was a man talking about immersing myself in this city with no safety net.
Clark and I crossed paths a few more times through church, and I kept thinking of his program, with the same “not for Meg” phrase echoing in my head.
Then one morning, while sitting in a chapel service, that voice came to me again and asked a very simple question: “Why not?” What was so hard, so scary, so impossible about spending a few hours on a Friday night sharing hot dogs with the people who lived less than two miles from me? Knowing that this new question had only one answer, I sent an email to Clark and asked when could I start.
Skip forward again to those college students visiting Portland during Spring Break. There had been a lull in the night between folks walking by. Jacob, one of our regular visitors and my new friend who lived outside, was visiting with their leader, so two of the students turned my way to ask for some more details about the program.
I explained that all we charged for our hot dogs was a story. We wanted to talk with people. When anyone asked if we were from a church, we honestly responded “no.” Instead we said we were people of faith who wanted to get to know our city better. We didn’t carry tracts or offer baptisms. In fact, I had very few conversations that year that connected to theology or faith. My longest conversation was with a man whose left arm was tattooed with crimes committed by the church.
“So why are you volunteering?” one student asked, anticipating the answer would be for church, service credits or that I was on staff.
“Because Jesus is making me.”
Art by Scott Erickson.