I want to tell you about my friend Mary Anne. She has a smile that lights up any room, and a spirit of enthusiasm that can get anyone on board. She has incredible confidence. She’s never afraid to get up in front of a group. She dresses in bright colors, and likes to show off her nails, painted to match her outfit. She loves to dance: rock and roll, liturgical dance, belly dancing, you name it. She works at a local preschool—the kids love her.
Mary Anne has a particular gift for noticing people who might otherwise be overlooked. A few years back, I had the privilege of participating in an international gathering for L’Arche with her. About 400 delegates from L’Arche communities all around the world gathered on a college campus in Atlanta, Georgia– 147 communities in 35 countries. As you can imagine, it wasn’t always easy starting a conversation with someone. You held up your nametag and pointed to your name, then said hello in as many languages as you knew until you saw a flicker of recognition in the other person’s eyes. And when there was no flicker, you’d smile and nod and bow. If you stopped to think about it, you’d feel pretty inadequate.
Watching Mary Anne work the crowd was like handing a paintbrush to Van Gogh and stepping back. She walked from meal to meal, meeting to meeting, engrossed in animated conversation with people from Ukraine, Honduras, the Philippines. I was pretty sure there was no actual common language, but that just wasn’t a problem for her, or her conversation mates.
There, among us, were delegates from Syria: Ghada, who is the community leader, and Randa. It was simply impossible to imagine, there on that beautiful, green little college campus–amongst all the celebrations, the meals, the songs, the prayers– that some of our members would return to a war zone at the end of the week.
While the rest of us may have been noticing this reality, or thinking about it, or praying about it, it was Mary Anne who did something about it. She linked arms and set off with Randa.
Mary Anne put Randa at the center of our gathering. And she made it clear to all of us that Randa had a gift for us to receive. And through her simple gestures of welcome, friendship, and solidarity, Mary Anne took a faraway news story, an abstract reality, and made it personal. She sent hundreds of people back home with Randa’s beaming face etched in our hearts. Now, whenever we read about Syria in the paper, or whenever we pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria, two of those sisters have names: Randa and Ghada.
~ Liska Stefko, L’Arche Daybreak
Liska has been a part of L’Arche since the 1990s and provides pastoral care for the Daybreak community.