This reflection comes from Ignatian Volunteer Mark Wong of Baltimore, who presented these remarks to the IVC National Board at their meeting in 2016.
Good morning. I’m Mark.
First, I would like to express my gratitude to you for your sacrifice and all the work that you do on our behalf. Your perseverance enables us: (1) to grow in our spiritual life, (2) to be in and with community; and, to serve others. This is pure gift. For your selfless effort for the greater good, we thank you.
I had a great 35 year career in federal service – mostly with the EEOC, an agency responsible for handling employment discrimination charges across the country – held a variety of positions, including special assistant to the chair/vice chair of the Commission for policy and operations; also served on staff at HUD and the Department of Education- and served as an advisor with the white house initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
When I retired – I was searching for a volunteer organization that offered spiritual growth, community, and service. I found the IVC through St. Ignatius Church and the IVC has been a Godsend. As I reflect on my experience, IVC is truly unique, in that one can do volunteer work anywhere, but these elements are not always present.
My assignment for the past four years has been at the Franciscan Center, a multi-service center founded by the Franciscan sisters – located in West Baltimore where the awful riots recently took place The Center serves 500 hot meals a day; has a full computer center, clothing center, one of the largest food pantries in the state of Maryland and programs include assistance for dental, prescriptions, IDs, and gas and electric bills, just to name a few. – I work directly with clients – counseling, providing assistance –serving primarily a poor, low/fixed income African American demographic.
How can the heart not be touched and not gain a greater awareness of His grace and love when:
-A 60 year old woman who had just lost her mother, was in grief, and could not afford her prescriptions. It was a choice between food or medications, she said. Then while sobbing, she said, you treat me here with such dignity. When I go to other places for help, they want to get rid of me; they want to sweep me under the rug. They don’t want to help, but you treat me like a human being. Thank you for helping me.
-A young man who had recently been released from prison for drugs; who had no ID, no employment, no place to stay, no money, said, I never want to go back to prison, I made bad choices and now I want to choose a different life. We were able to help him and at the end of our rather long conversation, he said with amazement, you really do care about me.
-A 60 year old man was shot eight times in an alley way – several times point-blank – was given up for dead at least three times while in the ER – he knew who had shot him –he reported the young man and said the shooting was a gang “rite of passage.” But he said he held no grudges and said we need to do better with our young people.
-A homeless man who had been homeless on the streets of Baltimore for seven (7) years – cheerfully, told me that he had finally found his own place to live – I congratulated him. He thanked me, but then he said, I won’t be happy until all my friends on the street get their own places and I will work for that.
-A middle aged woman told me she liked to write but felt inadequate because she did not have a high school diploma. We encouraged her to continue her writing. She did and was eventually published. She then said that she was not in it for the money and that she was going to take whatever money that came from book sales, not for herself, but to help others — because she got help when she needed it.
They have taught me much about faith. And, it is often said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Blessings come in many forms, but as Fr. Albright, a scholar, teacher and former chaplain at Towson State University said, the more you learn, the more you experience, the deeper you want to go to understand and to be closer. And, so it is, with the IVC experience, which envelopes at its core, spiritual growth, community and service to others, it makes me want to go deeper.