Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Mission Musings

Beauty is Everywhere

by Tara Miller

July 26, 2013—When you walk into Mary’s Place in Seattle, Washington, you are instantly surrounded by women who are overcoming incredible odds. Not only are you physically in their presence, but their stunning pictures are on full display, with the caption “Beauty Is Everywhere.” There are not enough books in Seattle to hold these women’s stories or explain how they manage to shine in the midst of dreariness and rainy days. They welcome one another with bright smiles and hugs, give their last bus ticket or dollar to someone in need, and advocate for those who have less than they do.Tara Miller (right) with Mission Intern Rachel Berry.
Tara Miller (right) with Mission Intern Rachel Berry. Photo: Mary Stanton-Nurse

Who are these women? They sound a lot like the missionaries I trained with last summer. But they sleep on the streets of Seattle, or aboard a bus, or in a room with 50 other women every night. They have been ignored at best and abused more often. Some struggle with disabilities, addictions, or mental health issues. Others have escaped a frightening situation in their native country. Some don’t speak English, and others don’t speak because of what others have done to them. Each day, all of them must travel on foot across the city to look for what they lack access to: food, clothing, shelter, showers, IDs, jobs, safety, support, and more. Maybe I should spell it out more clearly: these women are homeless.

Steps in Realization

I grew up believing that many unflattering adjectives accurately described homeless people: dirty, dangerous, dishonest, uneducated, crude, rude, lazy. Never would I have expected to call them friend, sister, mother, teacher, spiritual guide, co-worker, or comforter.

When I was growing up, my mom always taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated. The call to love others more than myself drew me to put others first. Through mission trips in my high school and college years, I spent days in different settings with homeless people. Then my views of them began to change. Eventually, I figured out that they were just like everyone else. Thinking about all the bad things they had to go through, I found different descriptive words for them: helpless, sad, needy, alone, barely existing, stuck, lost. I started wishing that everyone would lend a hand to those in need.

In terms of what was required of me, I thought that I had Jesus all figured out. Little did I know that mere charitable concern for “the least of these” was not enough. I was discovering that my life needed changing, my eyes needed opening, and people I had never expected to meet would show me who Jesus truly was.

Working at Mary’s Place—living my life among homeless women—is very different from seeing a blip of someone’s life during a weeklong mission trip. I now know women who stand up in the face of injustice—who dress in black and stand outside the courthouse when a homeless person is killed on the streets. Despite the harm they themselves often suffer, they believe that even the most violent people deserve a place to rest their heads at night. Those who find housing or jobs keep coming back to support their sisters at Mary’s Place. They know how important it is for them to remind each other that they are all strong women, capable of anything. They recognize that everyone’s struggles are valid, and that everyone deserves to “dream a hope, vision, and future,” as we say each Saturday at the Church of Mary Magdalene, the organization that founded Mary’s Place.

Losing and Finding Home

When I moved across the country, my parents also left Virginia. I felt really alone. Where would home be for me? When I visited my parents for Christmas, it felt weird that they had established a life I knew nothing about in a new city. Leaving them after only a week’s stay was heartbreaking. I was afraid I’d have a hard time returning to my new home. But when I stepped back into Mary’s Place, I was overwhelmed by lots of hugs and shouts of “Tara you’re back!” and “We’ve missed you!” My Seattle family would never let me feel lonely again.

The biggest thing I’ve learned at Mary’s Place is that we need one another. If you surround yourself with the same kinds of people your whole life and never question what society teaches you, you’ll be lost. There is a stark contrast between the group of people I ride the bus with and the community I’ve found among homeless women. The bus folks are dressed in nice business outfits, keep their headphones on, and look at the ground. They have been taught that avoidance passes for courtesy. They don’t see that this lack of interaction with others numbs us to reality—to the life in relationship with others that God calls us to live. At Mary’s Place, we don’t always approach each other with courtesy, but we do approach each other—and work to forgive one another when things go wrong.

I didn’t realize what I was missing by not living among homeless people. I could not see what they deal with every day and who they really are. It makes me wonder what other aspects of the human experience I’m missing and how much more I need to grow. I am so grateful for all I am learning here from these female incarnations of Jesus. Because of them, I will never be the same.

God shines uniquely through the life of each person on Earth. When we live in isolation and don’t dare to get involved with others, our lives are lacking. So let’s do life together, and let’s not miss out on the beauty of God’s world!

Tara Miller, originally from Virginia, is a missionary through the US-2 young adult program of the General Board of Global Ministries. Commissioned in August 2012, she is assigned to Mary’s Place and the Church of Mary Magdalene in Seattle, Washington. This story was originally published in the July-August 2013 edition of New World Outlook magazine.

View a photo gallery of Mary’s Place through photographer Fab Rideti here