Even though I work full time in parish ministry, I am mindful that I still need to do service for which I am not paid, so I applied to volunteer one evening a month. The 5:30 orientation included a tour of the gathering space, discussion of services provided, and what to expect once the doors opened. At 6:30, we gathered in the kitchen so that the volunteers could meet each other, review the schedule for the evening and know what was offered for dinner. At 7pm, the uniformed security guard was positioned at the front door (to keep the men out), and the doors were opened to welcome the guests. I had a chance to wait tables, work the drink station, monitor bathroom usage, and to gather supplies for women. I ate dinner there and engaged in conversation with a couple of women and one dog.
Midway through the evening, the director took the new volunteers out to the parking lot so we could observe the needle exchange program. Multnomah County Health Department staff were busy showing addicts how to use Narcan (for overdose recovery), counseling folks about rehab options, and exchanging needles. It is a program that I had heard about but had never seen in action.
After three hours at Rahab Sisters, the new volunteers were released to go home and reflect on the experience and to discern about making a six-month commitment. I had so much to process that I couldn’t sleep until late into the night. The next few days I was lost in thought as I tried to process my experience. I had been truly out of my element. It is one thing to know about transgender people as a concept, or an item in the news, and another thing to greet one as a sister. I wasn’t prepared to see older Asian women who were homeless or the very skinny women who turned tricks on 82nd Street. It really showed me how disconnected I am from the lives of these women.
This experience of Radical Hospitality has changed me. I have had to acknowledge my discomfort and to recognize my limitations. It has been humbling to know that I am not invincible. Finally, after two weeks of prayer and discernment, I have accepted that I cannot make the requested six-month commitment.
Please keep those involved with Rahab’s Sisters in your prayers. The space they offer marginalized women is a vital service. It is a small port in a wild storm where women can hang out and be safe.