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Experiencing Community By the Yard (Sale)by Perry Pike
HARRISONBURG, Va. - I'm back in school, attending the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) sponsored by the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University. It's intense, with participants coming from all over the world. The course I'm taking is "Religion as a Source of Conflict and a Resource for Peace." My roommates are from Germany, Uganda and Kenya.
With no Saturday morning classes scheduled, I had opportunity to pursue my favorite Saturday pastime, going to yard sales. Upon returning, my suite-mates remarked, "Why didn't you tell us? We would so love to have gone with you." It never occurred to me that anyone would.
That's when I discovered that one of my suite-mates, Romano, from Uganda, arrived in America a week ago with no luggage. A complicated visa incident left him with too little time to return home and pack once his visa was actually granted.
When he arrived in the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on his back, someone took him to Wal-Mart where he bought a pair of tennis shoes, a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, which left him just about broke. And hopeless.
So I told Romano, and my other roommate, Fred, who is from Kenya, "Okay. Get in the car. I think I remember a yard sale that had clothing in your size, Romano." They were thrilled at the prospects of an American adventure.
The problem is, it was already past 11 a.m., when the pickings become rather slim. Then, as we walked outside it started to rain, the kiss of death to yard sales. But we went anyway.
I'd seen a sale on the main highway, mostly children's clothes and some large men's sizes that didn't work for me. To my surprise, the clothes were all gone when we stopped. Then the woman says, "It was raining, so we just put everything in the truck. You can look if you want to."
I introduced my new friends, Romano and Fred, and told her Romano's story about being without clothes. She pulls out about 10 shirts and two pairs of pants that her son has outgrown and says, "I paid 20 dollars or more for any of those shirts, but I'll sell the whole lot of 'em to you for that price." Fred and Romano's eyes lit up like children at Christmas. It was thrilling.
Minutes later, we looked at some mens' pants that the woman's mother had brought to the yard sale. The mom sifted through pants to find three pairs that were Romano's size. While we were diligently involved in this task, the first woman came up and gave Romano about five more shirts. "Here. Take these too," she said. "We don't need 'em, and we want you to have plenty." Experiencing her kindness moved me deeply.
As my African friends and I proceeded to retrace my steps to other previously visited yard sales, I introduced my friends and again, at every place, people just piled up gifts for them. At a Mennonite day care yard sale, they were were eager to pack up from the rain and go home. "I'll sell you everything you put in a sack or a box for $1," they said.
Fred and Romano shopped for their wives, their children, brothers and sisters, stuffing sacks and boxes full. Then, when we were about to leave, another man at the sale said to me, "Wait!" He walked around the car and gave Romano cash. Again, I was deeply moved. The presence of love and charity from the community was so beautiful to witness. Romano, who was worried about what he was going to do for the whole trip, declared it a miracle. He remarked again and again about the amazing hospitality and charity others had shown him.
We got returned to the dormitory at Eastern Mennonite University and piled out of the car looking like Santa Claus' sleigh with an unlikely combination of elves.
Remember the song of the little drummer boy, where he says something like, "What shall I give him? I have nothing to give, so I'll play my drum for him"? That came to life for me today in doing something I love to do and offering that experience to strangers from a half a planet away, one of whom had never even heard of a "yard sale." It was as if I'd given them the best part of who I am, and I got to witness the best part of who we all are as sojourners on this Earth too. It made me happy, proud, joyous, full.
Usually, I forget how the Divine moves through and uses each of us just as we are, without doing or being anything special. Remembering this made me bawl like a baby today. In sharing this piece of myself, by sharing my America with these guys, little did I anticipate that I would witness the beauty of all people, and the best of my country, in a way I have rarely seen for myself. I was moved beyond words, blessed, thrilled! And our overseas guests were served a real slice of America, complete with full local Harrisonburg, Va., color. Double-blessed.
It felt so great I just had to let everyone know.