"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." Psalm 127;1
The energy in the room was astounding. It was particularly surprising because the seventy or so housing recovery volunteers that filled the room had just completed an exhausing week of service, all participants in a housing "blitz" over the five days previous. They came from multiple states and a dozen United Church of Christ congregations: young and more "chronologically giftd," verteran BBM volunteers and first-timers. And though some did confess they were beyond worn out, it did nothing to squelch the enthusiasm that was so very palpable that night. As each church and city was named, there were jubilant yelps and rounds of applause, a fitting end to an experience that had left homeowners Hilda and John with house keys in hand. After over three years of waiting and hoping, they had a new home. They could finally come home.
The grandness of a blitz has a way of spotlighting what is actually true about Back Bay Mission's housing recovery program each and every week. Yes, it is tiring. The intentionally communal living environment, coupled with a kind of physical labor many are not used to, often stretches participants beyond their normal comfort zones. The experience is also meant to expand a volunteer's personal understanding about poverty, the South, the requirements of faith and (these days) the ongoing demands of recovery. But while a week at Back Bay Mission is inherently challenging, most often it is also exhilarating. When everyone involved brings to the experience open hearts and minds, a humble attitude of service, and a dose of dogged determination, the result is simply magical. Faith is deepened. Relationships are strengthened. Lives are changed.
Several weeks ago, an interim pastor of one of our housing recovery groups confirmed for me the great value of volunteer service at Back Bay Mission for congregations who experience it. As part of the transitional process, the church she was serving had been reflecting on key moments in its recent history, experiences that had a profound impact on the members and ongoing ministry of the church. On their short list of significant, transformative moments in that congregation's life together was a previous week of volunteering with Back Bay Mission... Wow!
I thought about that humbling revelation as I witnessed the excitement and joy in the room on that last night of the blitz. A couple's dream had come true that week and they were coming home. Congregations and individuals had been changed that week, and the Spirit had wrought its boundless magic. And God's own good work had been accomplished that week, through the loving, exhausted labor of God's servants here on earth. Praise be to God, for every volunteer and for the opportunity to serve!