You Have To Listen
by Amy Pendergast
For two years, I lived at Nazareth Farm, a nonprofit in rural West Virginia that provides home repair for people in the area. I did all sorts of work while there: replacing windows, repairing roofs, insulating homes. All of this was good, necessary work, but I do not believe it was the most important work that I was a part of.
I believe the most meaningful work happened sitting in living rooms, at kitchen tables, and on front porches. Just talking and listening, being present to the people around me. In the time I spent focusing on just being present to the people I was with, I was able to be Christ for them and receive Christ through them. For two years, I met God every day in the people around me.
I listened to the wisdom of Christ coming through to mouths of his faithful followers and tried to follow the example of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who sat at Christ’s feet to listen. Grover is a weekly visitor to the farm. During prayer he often spoke passionately about the way the Spirit was working in his life, how much joy he felt because of his deep faith in Christ, and the ways that he felt called to live Christ’s message. His witness taught me to listen to the people around me as well as the Spirit. Through the people of Doddridge County, I heard Christ asking, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” as I was welcomed like family, time and time again. To Granny Bea, everyone is family. Even with 10 members of her extended family living with her, Granny was always ready to welcome more guests. I was blessed to spend countless hours at her kitchen table feeling so completely loved. (Not to mention consume countless calories… she makes the best grilled cheese in all of West Virginia!)
Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood at the foot of the cross and was unable to help her son. I saw Christ crucified in his suffering people, and was only able to offer my presence. Many of the homeowners I worked with were elderly, living alone, and isolated by their rural surroundings. When I was putting in windows at Clarence’s I got to see this firsthand. Clarence is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Every time I brought volunteers to his house he shared with us the pictures from his life, and most of all, of his beloved wife. He told us of the years he spent caring for her after she suffered from a stroke. And some days, Clarence shared the pain of loneliness in the years since his wife passed away. While I could not ease the pain of his loss, I hope that my presence comforted him in his loneliness.
As I continue on my life’s journey after Nazareth Farm, I realize what a blessing it was to be in a place and with people who value relationships and the ministry of presence. With all the rushing, the background noise, and the distractions that have worked their way back into my life, it is harder to just be with someone. It’s even harder to hear past the loudest voices for those who are not being heard.
No matter where we are, we surely encounter the voiceless in our society more often than we recognize. The gift of presence allowed me to see Christ so clearly through the people around me, and to hear the voices of those who are often voiceless in our society. People are not voiceless because they have nothing to say, but rather because no one is listening. So, grateful for two years of learning to listen, I humbly raise my voice with those who taught me so much in my time at Nazareth Farm. And now, through the noise, I try to listen.