People’s stories have always drawn me in. When I was young I loved reading people’s biographies more than anything. When I was ten, I remember reading about Jim Thorpe, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Florence Nightingale, and George Washington Carver. Each of their stories left an imprint on me. They were fascinating people who made a difference in the world.
When I was a teenager I read about missionaries Hudson Taylor and Jim Elliot who had a tremendous love of God and of people and who impacted the world in such significant ways.. Their stories touched me deeply. Through their stories, and others’ like them, I felt called to ministry even at the age of thirteen.
A few years later I read about the three Catholic sisters and one lay church woman, who felt called to live and minister in El Salvador, during a time when there was escalating violence and oppression against the country’s citizens. They went anyway to stand alongside and care for those who were suffering. Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan were martyred, and yet their lives continue to speak. And recently designated Saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero, for choosing to walk with the poor and oppressed was also martyred. He knew to choose to walk alongside and advocate for the suffering, that it would cost him, and it did. However, hearing their stories he couldn’t do otherwise. He was changed by the stories he heard.
My first years in ministry I heard the personal stories of refugees, who had to flee their countries because of persecution against them. I resisted hearing at first, because I knew their stories would draw me in,change me and could cost me something. However, when I heard the stories of their suffering and struggle, it changed me forever. How could they not? God was with them, and beckoned me to walk alongside them too.
There have been so many stories from books I have read, to people I have walked alongside. The stories have reached my heart and transformed me. To hear another’s story can be messy and cost us something. However, we are called to hear one another, and when we really do, it changes us. God calls us to hear, and in hearing, to walk alongside. Who are we resisting to hear, to really hear, underneath our differences? What are we clinging to that impedes our way? Following God is not easy. The way is, hard. However, we do not walk alone. He walks right beside us and the people whose stories He wants us to hear.
I am reminded that it isn’t just individual stories we are listening to, rather they are part of God’s bigger story. I want to be faithful to God’s bigger story of which these individual stories comprise. Archbishop Oscar Romero and those Catholic sister and lay woman were able to listen to the stories of the people because they were being faithful to God’s bigger story for them and the people.
God continues to change me through people’s stories. The stories that have reached my heart in recent years and change me are those in the LGBTQ community. There is so much to hear. I resisted at first, because it might cost me something. However, there is so much to hear. Their stories matter. Their pain and struggle matter. To not hear and to remain silent is to contribute to suffering. And their stories are a part of God’s bigger story. God calls us to go deeper beneath what we think and beneath what we may lose to follow God and walk alongside another. Who is God calling us to hear? What are we missing when we don’t hear?
Stories continue to draw me in. Each person’s story, heart, life matters. It is interesting to look back and to see that God has always had me on a listening journey, from reading biographies as a kid, to walking alongside people now. People’s stories continue to draw me in and I am forever changed. I am deeply grateful to each person, and to my Gracious God who holds us all.