Judge not, lest ye learn something

On a Tuesday, I arrive at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at 5:30 p.m. so I can talk to someone before we start eating at 6 p.m.

After driving into the parking lot, I see a fellow classmate walking up to the church.  She comes over and says hello and we agree that we will sit together when we get inside.

I also have one of my friends with me, because I am too uncomfortable to go alone.

I thought before that I might run into someone from our class, and now I wonder how that will affect the situation.  It makes the assignment more complicated.

The assignment was for a class called Interpersonal Communication.  The instructor, Mark Bergmooser, told our class that we would have to go to a God Works dinner and try to connect with the people there.

God Works is a program, run by Jeff Weaver and other volunteers, that serves free dinners to people in need.  The dinners are held at several churches around the community, one each day of the week.

The churches are transformed into soup kitchens to serve people who are homeless or struggling financially.

“Everyone in the God Works group believes that hungry people deserve to eat,” according to the God Works website.

For more information about the program, where the dinners are served, and how to volunteer, go to www.gwsoupkitchen.com.

We were not volunteering.  Instead, we were supposed to act like we needed to be there.  We also had to try to communicate with someone that we didn’t know.

My night continues: Although I feel comfortable talking to my fellow classmate, it makes it harder for me to focus on the assignment.  We both seem to make it harder on each other by showing and sharing our nerves.

It is more difficult to pretend I need to be at this dinner when there are people around me who know this isn’t true. 

Despite my hesitation, we walk inside the church and enter a gymnasium filled with tables, chairs, and people.  My friend, my fellow student and I look for people whom we might feel comfortable talking to.

We decide to sit at a table where only a woman and a young girl are seated.

We address them by saying this is our first time here.  They are very friendly and helpful.

After they answer a few general questions about how the program works (such as what other churches do this and which ones have the best meals) we move into the topic of struggling with money.  This is a general topic, making it easy to discuss.

The woman is easy to talk to right away and is very open to sharing her story.  I think it helps that we are all females.  It seems to make us feel a little safer or more comfortable.

She discusses how she once lived in Jackson, but that she got a divorce and moved with her four children to Monroe.  Her ex-husband does pay child support and her children go to see him sometimes on the weekends.

Her two oldest children have moved out on their own, her youngest son is at a friend’s house for the night, and her daughter who is with her is in third grade.

We also learn that her youngest son has juvenile diabetes and that he wants to be a doctor so that he can study the disease.

We don’t have to say much to keep the conversation going.  I think the woman feels as if she is helping us by disclosing her story.  It seems like she is trying to make us feel like there is nothing wrong with needing help.  She is open to self-disclosing, maybe because of her motherly nature.

We have a long time to talk to the woman and her daughter before eating. 

We are sitting at table number 13 and we are one of the last tables to be called up to get our food.

As we wait, the conversation continues.

We learn that the woman is engaged again.  Her fiancé is at the meal, too, but he arrives later than us.  Before he sits down, she says that she will sit closer to me so that I won’t have to “sit by a guy.” 

Before that, we were discussing how she felt nervous picking a table for the first time and we shared that same feeling.

When her fiancé sits down, I am surprised by the way he looks.  The woman and her daughter are dressed in normal clothes and do not really give off the impression that they are struggling financially, compared to some of the people who look like they had very difficult lives. 

Her fiancé looks as if he had lived a hard life, making him seem like he barely has enough money to get by.  He is much harsher looking and does not appear as friendly as the woman and her daughter.  He even seems to look quite a bit older than the woman. 
It also made me curious as to how the daughter feels around her mother’s fiancé.

The mother does not say how she met her fiancé, but it seems like they could have met at one of these dinners. 

This makes me think that although the woman had troubles with her first husband, she still seems like she needs a man in her life.  I make this judgment based on what I have seen and heard about people who get divorced, but I do not know the real reason they are together.

It is interesting to see how her family was affected by divorce.

My parents got divorced about ten years ago.  My two older brothers and I lived with my mother and she did everything she could for us as a single parent.  It really made me respect my own mother.  She worked hard so that we would not have to live uncomfortably.

She was able to support my two brothers and I as both of my brothers went to college, because she found a good job. She had not worked for 15 years prior to that.  If she had made a few different choices, my life could have been much different and much more difficult.

I don’t know if that makes her better than anyone at the dinner, and it makes me wonder about what types of choices the people there have made. 

These are the thoughts that fill my head as I leave the church that night. This assignment taught me about how I judge people.

Although I felt uncomfortable in that atmosphere, it showed me that some of these people were a lot like me. 

Could it be that my family was one choice away from having to depend on programs like this?  It gave me a new perspective on my life. 

In some ways, though, I do wonder how people really end up needing that kind of help.  Would it have been easier for my mother to rely on help like that after her divorce, or was it more respectable to do what she did to work really hard and support our family?  These thoughts caused me to judge the people there.

The choices you make can have a huge affect on your life and the people you share it with.