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Sunday, August 16, Belmont UMC held a Back-To-School supplies pick-up for the children and youth of the Golden Triangle Fellowship of the church. Golden Triangle Fellowship is a gathering of nearly 200 men, women and children who are seeking refuge in the USA from the Golden Triangle area of Asia (Burma, Cambodia and Thailand). I was asked to come take pictures of the gift giving process to share with those who were unable to participate or witness the children and youth “shopping” for school supplies.
If I am honest, I had mix emotions about being one of the designated photographers and was surprised by my initial hesitation to say “yes.” Lately I have been thinking a lot about the moments I choose to capture through my camera lens and why I choose to capture them.
Is it to remember? Is it to celebrate? Is it to show the world “see we… I… am doing something”? What does it mean to take someone’s picture, and once I take it what kind of responsibilities do I have in the sharing of it?
After a summer of serving and shooting and posting and posting and a week of the stomach flu to spend lots of time in thought, these questions began to haunt me.
Well, as you can see I decided to receive the invitation to do something I love and glimpse a modern day miracle. Yes, miracle! In this world we live in, whenever the love of Jesus Christ moves someone to think outside of themselves and allow those thoughts to lead to meeting the needs of others I consider that a miracle.
I arrived to the church a bit late, and it took me a few minutes to settle into the experience before shooting for I was still a bit uncertain about actually pulling out the camera. In the moments of settling I watched as people who could easily ignore the needs of all of the children anxiously waiting at the door, prepared with care and precision the tables of school supplies, shoes, clothes, book bags and other treats to gift. They had arrived much earlier than myself and had worked hard requesting & gathering gifts to give. I watched as smart, creative and brilliant children who attend metro schools, piled into church to taste the miracle.
My mind quickly went to the story of the ones giving, the stories of the ones receiving and I must confess this small bit of anger, not really sure if it was holy, began to bubble up within me. I was not angry at the givers or the receivers. I became angry that there was a need for this modern day miracle. I was angry that when school starts, not every child begins the year the same.
I remember being a child and giving my parents a hard time because I just “had” to have the latest back to school gear and overpriced outfit from Limited Kids. And though my actions born out of a sense of entitlement did not always give way to me getting what I wanted from my parents who were wise enough to know when to say “no,” I never had to worry about having what I needed for the first day of school. I remember never having to worry about filling out a form for free or reduced lunch, especially not a form in a language that was not my own. I always had a lunch my mom prepared for me or money to buy lunch or an ice-cream treat to go along with my packed lunch. I honestly cannot remember as a child having a real concept that not everyone started the school year the same. I am not sure if I really cared all that much, at least I cannot remember.
My thoughts were interrupted though by the smile of Eh tapping me on my leg to show me his Spiderman backpack. His smile was like a wrecking ball to my soul. Once again God came into the moment, drawing me out of myself and distracting thoughts only to draw me into the miracle. Before I knew it my camera was out. I just had to take a picture of Eh holding a book bag of his favorite superhero that he would have bought from himself at Target if he had the funds to do so. Then I looked and saw little Ben, Lauren and Sean helping their peers get what they needed for school. Then I saw Lori, Joan, Carrie, Vicki, Andy, Justin and others, who had helped prepare the gifts given by Belmont UMC members and members of Rehoboth UMC in Gallatin. Yes, another church gave both school supplies and clothes to help prepare children they have never met or may never meet for school. They did this all because of their love for God and the commandment given to them by Christ to love their neighbor as they love themselves.
I saw as the adults gave the children and youth their undivided attention and really tried to make sure each child got what they needed. I saw Thiengi’s mother walking with her every step of the way, to make sure her daughter got what she needed. I glimpsed Heather being pastor.
I looked and saw something beautiful I had to capture. We hunger for beauty, like we hunger for food… I hunger for beauty, like I hunger for food. That morning I was surrounded by beauty, I was standing in the midst of a miracle.
I still have the questions I listed before. I am still trying to discern when to shoot and when to put the camera down. However, I am glad I was extended the invitation and that I received it that morning. Because I said “yes,” I opened myself to the possibility of change and transformation.
“I look forward to the day when schools have all they need, and the Airforce has to hold a bakesale to buy bombers,” words written by a friend on a photograph of he left as a gift to us a little over a year ago. My roommates decided to post it on our refrigerator while I was away at DYA. I have seen it on the frig a number of times, but tonight was the first time I actually read the words and allowed them creep into my imagination.
What a dream, a real upside down kind of dream.
(Browse and/or study the Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2010 at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Overview/)
Tonight his dream resonates deeply within me as I think about the impact our national priorities are having upon the public school system throughout the USA, thousands of people who are fighting or have family and friends fighting on behalf of their country, and those who know the terror of a bomber & gun better than any person should… my soul cries out for peace and for the USA to study war no more.
Children who are entering into first or second grade this year only “know” a country at war. We have been at war for over 6 years, and some of us have the privilege of forgetting while others are keenly aware of this harsh reality both in the USA and in Iraq & Afghanistan. We all need to remember. For the good of the nations, we must not forget.
People are dying.
Terror is being nurtured, if we acknowledge it or not.
It is a complicated situation, I know.
Answers I do not have. The ideas rolling around in my head I have yet the courage or words to dare speak.
It leaves me restless, longing and seeking folks to conspire with.
There has got to be another way.
Tonight, however, the words of my old friend whom I miss dearly keep coming to mind as I close my eyes to dream yet another night until morning…
“I look forward to a day when schools have all they need and the Airforce has to hold a bakesale to buy bombers.”