Volunteering at the Encounter

In the weeks leading up to the Encounter, I had been reawakened, with help from my School of Community, to my need to say Yes to Christ’s presence in my life, through my very flawed humanity...

In the weeks leading up to the Encounter, I had been reawakened, with help from my School of Community, to my need to say Yes to Christ’s presence in my life, through my very flawed humanity. I was able to intellectually understand what it meant to say “Christ does not reveal himself despite our humanity, but through it.” But I had only recently begun to verify that with my own experience. I had a very specific idea of what I thought needed to happen at the Encounter for me to be happy. But I begged instead, not for this “thing” to happen, but for the willingness to be open to what I knew was there for me, and to understand how I can see this through my imperfect humanity. And so, I went to the Encounter with an expectant heart, wanting to see how this would manifest itself there.

Volunteering was a big challenge for me. This year, I was one of the photography coordinators. I knew that this would require more of a time commitment since I would have more responsibilities. Because of this, I missed every talk or exhibit that I wanted to see, and also a few social gatherings with friends. This frustrated me at first; The New York Encounter is always a place where I am made aware of my need to see what is given to me, through the faces and experiences of those around me: the speakers, the organizers, the other volunteers, and the friends I meet or see again after a long time. I love to photograph the people experiencing the Encounter around me, and to see this big event in this very beautiful way. For me, taking pictures of people experiencing the Encounter is like hearing a person who has met something beautiful describe what is so striking about it with this unique excitement of meeting Something for the first time. It is a reminder of my own initial encounter with Christ through the Movement, and what was so striking to me in that first encounter and continues to be every time it happens. But because of this, maybe mistakenly so, I was afraid that the very job that makes the Encounter beautiful for me, would be what prevented me from experiencing this again. I was afraid of spending more time in front of a computer than in front of the people I needed to see. I continued to beg to be shown the face of Christ, not despite the difficulties of my volunteer job, but through them. I wanted the job to be beautiful for me.

Two things struck me while volunteering at Encounter. First, Paolo and Paola, who did their work with such love and who showed me so much affection when I needed it the most, that I couldn’t help but want to do my work with the same intensity. It’s like I started anew every time I saw their face, because for me, that was the face of Christ. They were a wonderful reminder for me, when I needed love the most and seemed least willing to accept it. Second, the other photographers. Being a photographer can be a very isolating job; you are always either behind a camera or in front of a computer screen, editing. But because of the photographers with me (especially the last night, when we talked about what made us happy in this job) I felt accompanied. I didn’t even realize how alone I had been feeling and I don’t know that I would have recognized my need to be accompanied, had I not experienced it in that moment.

What I wanted at the Encounter that I thought would make me happy, didn’t necessarily happen. But what I begged for, I was given. I was made more aware of my humanity through these encounters with Paolo and Paola or the photographers, and I was given this through the difficulty of my circumstances. When I followed my desire to experience something beautiful through volunteering at the Encounter, I did so because of a Promise. I had seen glimpses of this happiness before, and I knew it was possible again. My desire for this one thing that I wanted to happen at the Encounter was great. But my desire for happiness, my desire for beauty and to be shown how I am Loved, is so much greater. I am grateful for volunteering, and for the Movement, for making me aware of the need to see this, again and again.