Starting when it was just a newly-hatched community free-food-pantry, I have been volunteering for an organization of university-area churches called Micah 6, named after the passage from the book of Micah regarding what it is God requires of us. The simple answer in English is, “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” This command is what the Micah 6 organization feels called to fulfill.
I have met recipients at this pantry who have come to us under the most extraordinary circumstances. One woman who appeared a few years ago was immediately noticeable, even in the crowd, because she possessed the form of a goddess. She was extremely tall, very dark-skinned, and completely radiant, shining in the city’s back alley like the sun. She was conversant in English, though with a heavy accent, so that, at one point I briefly wondered if I could, with my old college French, understand her better in that language in which she was fluent. In fact, she also spoke a tribal language from her native western Sudan region, as well as Swahili. Most recently, she and some cohorts had been laid off from hotel cleaning jobs that they had worked for more than three years. This particular woman was apparently being pressured for her rent payment by her Sudanese landlord and, with no income, she was desperate. We have a marvelous organization in town which helps all our recent immigrant-refugees in a variety of ways, but only for three years after their arrival in this country. My friend the goddess’s goodwill had expired in that place and she was looking for work, relying on a foundation of minimal higher education- only the few practical nursing courses she had been able to afford while working as a hotel maid.
During one of her trips to the food pantry, she told me the story about how she had come to our country. One night, before anyone here had heard of Darfur, troops arrived at the door of their western Sudan home, dragged her husband outside, and murdered him. She fled north into the darkness while her 9-year-old son, along with her brother, escaped westward into Chad. Eventually this woman made her way to Cairo, where the United Nations took her in, gave her a passport, and sent her to my city, where there was already a cluster of Sudanese. She had not heard a word from her son or brother since she had confirmed their arrival in Chad. Various people associated with Micah 6 were trying to find assistance for this woman until she could fly on her own again, and one day not long after, she really did disappear to us. I heard the unsubstantiated rumor that she had found a job in childcare, and I hope that was true. I like to imagine the fortunate children who could be nurtured in several languages and be cared for by a radiant goddess.
Sometimes my volunteer job feels difficult and I do not feel wise or clever enough for the task at hand. Sometimes there are rewarding personal connections that make my heart soar. Even when I feel tired of the job and unfit to carry on, I realize that I must keep doing it for my own sake because it is a connection with people who are unseen or even embarrassing in my community- people with whom I might never have had social contact were I not working for Micah 6. I believe that I do not know my community unless I meet and listen to the members of it who have become ‘least’, and have served their needs. Each person here has a story; each has a path behind him which led him to our door. Each has a path ahead of him which can lead him away from our door and on to other places where personal triumph will prevail. I hope that I am walking alongside on that path.
In the acrylic painting, I treat a serious subject in a most playful way, creating dissonance and shock. By adding layers of clear, textured, and translucent media, along with collaged paper layers and even three-dimensional shapes made from acrylic, I have depicted a terrible conflagration through which people are fleeing, blind with fear, and oblivious to the tots, elders, and others fleeing around them. The grinding cogs of evil intention loom around the unfortunate souls. In such a time we are alone, together.