This morning, I went to the Garrett Center at Bradley University. The Multicultural Student Services office is located in that building, and I went there to offer my services, desiring to meet some students possibly from Middle Eastern countries and help them however they need help. For the last few months I have intended to go and sign up to be a volunteer, but it took me until today to actually muster up the very small amount of energy and courage it required to do so.
My apprehension was two-fold: The first apprehension has to do with the fact that, as far as I have found, there aren’t any ways for people like me to get involved in volunteering with International Students at Bradley. Since I don’t like rejection, I avoided putting my name in the hat at Bradley to help out and risking being told there’s nothing for me to do. Does that make any sense? The second apprehension has to do with my work. As I am employed part-time with a ministry that teaches churches about Islam and how Christians can build bridges with Muslims in our communities, I knew I would be looked at with an extreme amount of skepticism.
“Why do you want to work with International Students? Do you want to convert them? You know that you won’t be able to talk about your faith with students while you are volunteering, don’t you? What’s your real reason for volunteering?” I imagined this line of questioning and started trying to answer these questions while walking to the Garrett Center. This apprehension is related to the first one regarding rejection. I definitely didn’t want to be told I can’t volunteer because I’m a “professional” Christian.
I put my apprehensions aside and found my way to the second floor of the Garrett Center where the Multicultural Student Services office is located. I went up to the secretary and told her that I wanted to volunteer to help international students however I can. I told her I didn’t care what that looked like, or what they might need, but that I was willing. I told her that I know its not normal for a stranger to walk in off the street to volunteer, but that I was truly interested in helping. She got this confused look in her eyes which wrinkled up her whole face. She said, “Are you a student here?”
I immediately started getting nervous, almost to the point of shaking. Its the same feeling I got back when the homeless guy shouted at me from the dumpster after I had thrown a bag of garbage in while working a job cleaning office buildings in college. I started forgetting how to use my mouth. I don’t know if I thought that I was going to get rejected because I am not a student (an unforeseen circumstance), or if she was going to call me a freak and tell me to get out. The funny thing is, I really want to do this. I really want to help international students get accustomed to living in America, to welcome them, and to give them friendship in a very intimidating new culture. So why was I so nervous?
I told the secretary that I live in Peoria and am married with two kids, and I just want to help if they need volunteers for any programs, even to pick students up from the airport. Still confused, she asked me to take a seat in the lobby and then went to talk with the Director of the program. Meanwhile, I met two new students who arrived just 4 days ago from India. I welcomed them to America and shook their hands. I thought, “Is it too much for me to simply be the ‘Hey, welcome to America’ guy?”
The secretary soon returned with a pad of paper and asked me to write a short bio on myself explaining why I want to volunteer. In the interest of full-disclosure, I made it clear that I work for Crescent Project and that my wife is the Children’s Director at our church. I figured its better to get that on the table from the start than to have to answer questions later. I wrote about our time in living in Jordan, learning Arabic, our family, and what I want to do to help international students make their way in this country.
Before long, I was ushered into the Director’s office. She saw that I work with Crescent Project on my bio and asked me again, “What do you want to do as a volunteer? Do you have a group that wants to do something?” I told her that its just me and my family. I told her that its been difficult to figure out a pathway to volunteer with the international student community in Peoria, and that I was hoping that maybe there was something that that I could offer as a volunteer that the University needed. She took my information and put it in a file, and I thanked her for talking with me during the busiest time of the entire school year for her office.
Opportunities rarely arise out of dormancy. I was reminded again today that I am not in control of outcomes. I was reminded that I often keep myself from doing things because I’m afraid of being rejected in the process. I may not ever volunteer through the Multicultural Student Services Office at Bradley University, but at least now they know that I exist and am willing. I changed my potential outcomes today. I think that’s faithfulness.