Building Beyond: WAFER Invests in People, Bringing the Gospel to Life

03/11/2024 3:21 pm

By Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Laurie Sullivan

In May 2023, WAFER welcomed guests to its newly opened building for the first time, marking an expansion in capacity for services and ministry. While the focus is on the new facility, the vital element lies in witnessing the Gospels come to life daily. A notable example occurred during a recent Saturday food giveaway for those in need, something special happened. It felt like a church service, but not in the traditional sense, since it took place on the streets of Northern La Crosse.

Reflecting on my experience at WAFER’s food giveaway, echoes of Scripture and worship were evident. Volunteers, dedicating their Saturday to aid the less fortunate, demonstrated a sense of community, camaraderie and service, even in challenging temperatures. The morning and evening shifts, mobile pantry volunteers and friends came together, sharing laughter and joyfully serving those in need without a trace of complaint.

Scripture came alive, with parallels to the biblical command to “feed the hungry” and “clothe the ones in need.” Witnessing Jesus feeding the multitudes during the giveaway mirrored the essence of daily encounters in our pantry as neighbors seek sustenance.

I also overheard the vineyard owner addressing the hired hand at the end of the day, responding to complaints from some workers who were displeased after receiving the same wages as those hired at the end of the shift. In an unintended sequence, one car moved ahead of the others and was served first. An individual noticed this and expressed frustration, claiming to have waited for an hour. Despite our assurance that there was enough food for everyone, the discontent persisted. This incident brought to mind the parable of the vineyard owner in Matthew 20, where the owner justifies paying the same wages as those hired last, who only worked for one hour, as those who toiled all day. The owner says:

“These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” Yet, he addressed one of them saying, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

On many days, I’ve lived out the story of the widow’s mite. Guests, often with very little themselves, generously offer gloves and jackets to others. Even during giveaway events, many guests, as I registered them, would roll down their windows further so I could warm up a bit or invite me to come in and sit for a while. However, it was the lady with the big smile on her face who, upon seeing me writing without gloves, handed me hers despite my insistence that I had gloves, but couldn’t write them. As she drove away after picking up her food, she blew a kiss through her window.

As the hours wound down at the food giveaway, one of the last guests, who was still about 4 blocks away, asked me if there would be anything left for him. I thought of the verses from 1 Kings where there was a continuous supply of flour and oil until the rains fell and the supply could be replenished. God provided more than enough to supply this young man. To me, God is a God of abundance, not scarcity. So often while serving in the pantry, I see this play out. When the shelves become low, miraculously a donation comes in to supply enough to feed those coming that day.

Each day in the pantry, I see and listen to the interactions of the volunteers and our guests. I witness relationships being built, laughter being shared and lives being changed by the encounters. Personally, I reconnected with a homeless man I served over five years ago. Each of us remembers the other and it was like a reunion party with hugs, laughter and catching up. Often, I receive hugs from guests and volunteers in gratitude just because I try to express my delight in witnessing God in them. I’ve experienced how the volunteers on each shift have built a family with each other, and if one is missing for a while and comes back, it is as if the family is once again complete, and joy is expressed like the prodigal son story of the son coming back to the fold and the father running out to greet him.

Finally, every once in a while, a few of the volunteers and staff share a meal together. It is in the breaking of the bread that stories are shared, care is given, laughter, encouragement and joy are expressed. Where two or three are gathered, God is truly in the midst. I truly believe that beyond a building, I experience God every day and I am able to witness the Gospel being lived out in a tangible manner.  

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