The blank wall in the laundry room at Baldwin Center baldwincenter.org stared back at Ruby and I the first day of the ARM (Adult Righteous Mission) trip. Each year Clarkston United Methodist clarkstonumc.org members and friends conduct mission trips to centers of help in the surrounding area. This was our second year at the Baldwin Center whose mission is to “Feed, Clothe, Educate, Empower.” And they do.
Off the dining room where Baldwin Center serves over 60,000 meals each year to the surrounding Pontiac neighborhood, is the laundry room/restrooms with showers. The laundry room has multiple washers and dryers which are available free for families and individuals. We were asked to paint a laundry line on the two blank walls to brighten the room.
The first two days we were a little apprehensive as our emerging laundry line seemed not to fit the requested vision. “I thought it was going to be like a real laundry line: straight lines with towels and sheets and sox. Easy and quick.” “Where are the clothespins and poles?” But we kept painting our joyful laundry line with a meandering, almost dancing, rope and colorful clothes: mostly kids’ garments like party dresses, jeans, tee shirts and baby onesies.
By Wednesday the comments turned to compliments which made Ruby and I feel good. BUT more than the compliments, the clothesline seemed to inspire and induce stories by those who came through to do their laundry or use the restrooms. The twisting rope of the line connected all of us as they related delightful stories bringing grins to their hungry, worn faces and transforming our tired faces into happy smiles.
Teen aged Rosa and her mother trudged in with huge bags full of laundry. While their clothes cleaned, they sat and waited and watched us. “You’re keeping us from going crazy sitting her all this time,” Mom declared. Then she pointed to a pink party dress, “Look Rosa. You had a dress just like that only yours had a lacy collar. I loved that dress.” Rosa replied, “YOU loved that dress!” Smiles from all of us. Laughter from Mom.
One fellow, on his way to the shower, stopped twice to tell us about his niece who was an artist and “could draw anything.” “She did a Sponge Bob underwater scene for her autistic brother. He loved it.”
Another guy scared us a little when he said he could bring in his cans of spray paint to help us. But then watching our faces, he explained his family contracted to do graffiti like signs for neighborhood restaurants.
But two little girls melted us. They stood watching, holding hands, obviously on their way to the restroom. “Can we help paint?” They asked. I assured them I would find some white paper for them when they finished in the restroom. When they came out, the youngest waved a long clean sheet of white toilet paper. Her sister announced, ”We found some paper!” Dad came in just then to take them to waiting lunch. I hope they get to paint pictures soon.
The stories didn’t last long. Our encounters took minutes. But on a mission trip, what matters is finding and relating real life stories. It’s those stories which remind me of the storytellers’ lives: I see the storytellers; I hear their voices once again. I pray for more happy moments for them, as they have given me.