This Christmas Season, we invite you to “Extend the Table”. This is the theme our volunteers are exploring this year–to honor a spirit of radical hospitality in their service with those on the margins. As we share some of the ways they’re extending the table, we hope you’ll be inspired, too. We invite you to join in our efforts to extend the table to current and future generations of volunteers. Below, current JV Jordan shares her service with Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services in Anchorage, AK.
Think about the loudest dinner conversation you’ve ever heard. Now imagine a conversation triple that volume. If you’re wincing from the all the imagined sound, you’re probably doing it right. That’s how loud my kitchen table is at home.
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, in a pretty small family – most nights, there are only five people around our dinner table. But when the five of us get together, we become the five loudest people I’ve ever met. We talk about our days, our thoughts, our feelings, and our frustrations. We ask invasive questions and we interrogate each other endlessly. So until I got to JVC Northwest, that’s what a kitchen table meant to me – a place to go with the purpose of sharing, loudly and in detail.
This year, I serve at Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services in Anchorage, Alaska. I spend most days at the Welcome Center, where I work with adults who speak limited English, or sometimes no English at all. Communication is stilted; conversations are abrupt at best. And although I dearly love my students, the language barrier isn’t the only thing that prevents us from sharing our stories. I know the adults I work with have experienced trauma, displacement, and often even torture. Unless they decide to talk about those experiences, it is not my place to ask. So often, we sit in amiable silence, or we use pantomime to mutually express that yes — we are all freezing cold here. We delight in making silly faces, and we share Somali food and Halloween candy.
With that in mind, I’ve come to realize that extending the table means offering an unconditional welcome – a welcome without expectations or entitlement, a welcome even to people whose stories you don’t know and might never learn. It’s easy to make community with people you know well; it’s harder to make community with people with whom you can barely communicate. Extending the table means opening the door, sharing a smile, and making room. Talk at length, or don’t talk at all. Either way, you’ll always have a seat at the table at our house in Anchorage. I hope you decide to sit by me.
Extend the table to more volunteers and those with whom they serve