February 28, 2018

God’s Needs Seek Us Out

A Reflection on Finding Purpose at Touching Miami with Love

by Lynn Handley

Honestly, when I first heard about Touching Miami with Love (TML), my first thought was, “A mission trip to Miami in July? Why not someplace cooler—like Canada?” Of course, the needs of God in the world do not always follow our preferences. However, sometimes…God’s needs do seek us out.

The TML team from 2016 returned from their trip, raving about their experiences.  I sat down to Wednesday night dinner and Elizabeth Qualls started telling me about a need they had in Miami.  Elizabeth and I worked together at Whitefield Academy as librarians and she knew my particular interests and talents. She told me that TML had a bunch of books in a specific room that needed organizing and leveling (assigning reading levels to each book) so the volunteers could find appropriate books for the children. George Trussler came along and agreed that something needed to be done.  I finally stopped them and said, “Ok, I’ll go—you had me at leveling books.”

I love books.  I’ve always loved books.  The fact that I became a teacher and a librarian is no surprise.  So when SPdL’s TML team told me of this need, I knew I could not refuse.  Now, please know this:  The idea of going ANYWHERE in July that could possibly be more humid and hot than Atlanta, did NOT appeal to me at all.  My most recent vacations have been to England, Ireland, Norway and Canada. I never pack a swimsuit, blue jeans and sloppy sweaters are my idea of preferred vacation wear.  Ok, I know, this was not to be a vacation.  But really, Miami?

I spoke with Terri Dewey, the program director for TML, and told her what I do and how I could help.  She couldn’t have been more thrilled.  She took pictures of the existing “library” and told me what would help them.

When we arrived in Miami, I started helping the team get all of the activities ready for the week.  However, as soon as I was in the building I was all about the books.  A great deal of my work consisted of sorting through books for appropriateness and discarding that which was not useful or suitable.  Many people feel, in their hopes to be generous, that ANY books are fine for children in areas of poverty.  This leads to TML receiving some really strange materials—adult Sunday School literature, prison ministry materials, used coloring books, etc. As I told some of the ladies in the office, a guiding principle of mine for book selection is, “If it’s not good enough for my children, it’s not good enough for yours.”  So the first two days in Miami were spent throwing out books—some to trash others to be re-donated.  The rest of my time was spent leveling, labeling and organizing the books left into a usable library.  While I was working, some of the older students from TML became interested and started to help. It was my hope to teach someone the system I had devised so that it could be maintained.  Alas, we did not have time for this. In fact, I knew I needed to return to continue the work.  Melissa Hollingsworth said she could try to come as well.  And while we were there, we decided on a time to come back—Columbus Day weekend.

I was prepared for all my work from the summer to be undone, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The books were basically on the correct shelves.  We had color-coded them so that helped.  We straightened and began working on the books in the early childhood area.  As we were working there on a Monday we were delighted to see the children as they arrived from school.  We did not finish the books completely, but we will return next summer to continue the process. We were in Overtown this past summer, but I hear that the Homestead location needs their library organized so I anticipate working hard again this next summer!