Eighteen years ago, President Dave Brandt began a George Fox tradition known as Serve Day. Recently, we continued the tradition by sending out more than 2,000 students, staff and faculty to serve our community and neighbors in the northwest corner of Oregon (and a few other places). We do this, of course, because we want to be neighborly, but also because it was Dr. Brandt’s commitment and belief that Christ calls us to serve others. I am one of many who have served at every Serve Day since the beginning. We have worked in homes, shredded lots of blackberries, painted, swept and generally helped wherever we could.
This year, I happened to be with the men of Fulton Street House along with Kerry Irish, one of our outstanding historians, and we engaged in the beautification of a historical cemetery in the city of Sherwood. I have to admit, I picked this site because the previous year I spent the entire day removing blackberry bushes from the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. I thought working in a cemetery with a few students cleaning headstones, chopping weeds and perhaps mowing might be a nice way to spend the day. Besides that, few people would complain! It was a surprise, then, when we arrived and the site coordinator noted that he primarily needed us to cut back those “terrible blackberry bushes” growing at the edge of the cemetery property! We took on the task with great energy, but my jeans and shirt will never be the same.
One thing was unusual and unexpected about our day. As we worked quietly together, a young woman pulled up in a white van. As it’s an old cemetery, we wondered what she was doing there. Perhaps she knew the caretaker? She stopped and pulled out a baby stroller, carefully took two children out of their car seats and proceeded to roll around among the graves. We just kept working. After about 15 minutes, she happened to come down to where we were and asked if she could take our pictures. We looked at each other and thought, “Well, sure,” but we wondered why, although we did not ask. A little later she got in the van and drove off.
Around noon we broke for lunch and gathered in the middle of the cemetery under the shade of a tree. The caretaker brought us water and came to see how we were doing. It gave us a chance to ask, “Do you know the young lady who came by?” “Well, yes. The cemetery has recently been opened to new burials, and she lost a young child who is buried right over there,” he said, pointing. “She just wanted to come by and say thanks for caring.”
I have to admit that the caretaker’s story came as a complete surprise to us. We were just out there to work and did not even think that any would care about what we were doing. At that moment, I remembered the words of the New Testament: “Be careful how you treat others – you might be entertaining an angel unaware.” That morning we all met an angel, and she made all the difference.