by Kimberly Parker
A few days ago, I was having a supervision meeting with our Candler School of Theology intern, Emmanuel, who is from Ghana. One of the questions I asked him to reflect on was, “Where have you seen God in the work you have done at Central OAC thus far?” He talked with me about an African tradition: “Meet me at the Palaver” or “Come to the Palaver.” The Palaver is a large tree that serves as a community meeting spot in the shade where all can gather as equal partners to discuss problems, solve conflict, and heal. Emmanuel talked about our lobby and how people come inside seeking assistance, help, and support for the things they are enduring. He saw a connection between our lobby and the Palaver – a place where people can gather, feel safe, and rest physically.
I’ve been reflecting on this concept since Emmanuel and I talked, and I’m now finding parallels everywhere. We recently had our monthly Main Frame Job Readiness graduation. During graduation, students are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about what the program means to them. One of the students, an older gentleman from the Virgin Islands, mentioned that the Main Frame had been a peaceful, safe, and restful place to be for him. He powerfully contrasted how he feels in the OAC with how he feels out on the streets. Outside, he said, “It’s not safe; it’s not peaceful; things are chaotic. In this space it’s safe and calm.”
Just last week, one of our regular guests travelled several states away to visit family. As she transferred buses and drove through different states, she sent us pictures and updates through the OAC’s Facebook page letting us know about the progress of her trip. She updated us all along the way. I have continued to think about her and the way she saw us as a point of reliable sanctuary. I believe that our staff and volunteers create a safe place for our guests each day. This guest found peace when she came into the lobby and even carried that with her as she travelled. She found a place she wanted to be and stayed connected to it. She found a community she could trust enough to tell us that she was leaving and where she was going.
This is humbling to think about, and I am grateful that we are able to offer such a place for those who choose to trust us with their struggles. Meet me at the Palaver is going to stay on my mind for a while. Our values state, “We believe in meeting people where they are with patience and humility, and treating each person with respect and dignity.” These values are similar to the ones that Emmanuel expressed to me regarding the Palaver tree. My hope is that we continue to be the Palaver for our community of guests.