When I speak to new volunteers about what they can expect when they begin volunteering with us, I often say that you never know just how deeply you are affecting lives. The smallest of gestures – a smile, a conversation, a shoulder to cry on – means so much to someone in need. And when people move on, you may never truly understand the impact your kindness has had. That is, until they tell you.
I was reminded of this the other day when a former client called us from Toronto to catch up. She and her husband moved from Ottawa to Toronto this past Spring to be closer to family. They had been struggling with serious housing and health issues and felt that being around family would help them get on their feet again. With no family in Ottawa to lend that kind of care and support, they turned to us, as they had always done, to help them with their basic needs: food, gift cards, and some personal care.
Quite honestly, at times we felt inadequate to address the seriousness of their problems. I mean, what can our small gestures really do?
Apparently, a lot, according to our former clients. “OIM,” the wife explained “did more for us than anyone else.” I was slightly puzzled by this. “Well, we did very little,” I stammered, “except give what we had.” “No, no, you don’t understand,” she said. “You were the only ones who supported us through our ordeal! We had no one. No one” She explained. “I was afraid that one day you would say ‘no more.’ But you never did. We kept coming, and coming, and coming, and you never gave up on us! You never turned your back. And we are so thankful.”
I’m still unpacking this exchange – amazed, perplexed, reflective – and in so doing, I am reminded and encouraged by what Mother Theresa once said:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
In God’s economy – as amazing as it sounds – it is the smallest of gestures that can be transformed into something much bigger than even we intended.