Back when I was a university student, my roommate had a plaque on her desk. It read:
I am only one,
But I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But I can do something.
And by the Grace of God,
I will do what I can do.
To me, these words are an inspiration to do good wherever we can, however we can, no matter how small or how insignificant we may think it may be at the time. That there can be a ripple effect like throwing a stone in the water and the waves form larger and larger circles moving out from the middle.
I’d not thought about these words for years, until recently attending St Albans Cursillo weekend #7. One of the talks referenced this quote as the ‘Power of One’. Those words came back to me verbatim from all those years ago, and they still held the same transformative power that they did when I first heard them.
Variants of this poem have been attributed to various people, ranging from Helen Keller to Unitarian clergyman Edward Everett Hale to the religious revivalist Dwight L. Moody. The concept is thought to stem from Isaiah 6:8, in which God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah eagerly responds, “Send me!” – which is also the theme of the song we sing at our Cursillo events, “Here I am, Lord!”
Our retired vicar at St Michael’s Anglican Church, Derek Hinge, recently shared a humorous version of this same concept, called the “COW” principle – which stands for:
CAN I do something?
OUGHT I do something?
WILL I do something?
– Which can be applied when in doubt of whether to take action or not.
It’s this concept that brought me to help with the Ukrainian refugees in our town. Like many, I’d been thinking about their terrible journeys to get out of the line of fire and how they’d left everything behind to come here. And so I went to the informational meeting at Markwell Pavilion here in our town centre, organized by Churches Together, on 23rd April of last year, where there was an appeal for volunteers to sign up for various tasks – ranging from job seeking to transportation to benefits claims and so on. At that point, we had a few first families coming into the town, being hosted by people who had offered to open up their homes, and we were expecting more to arrive. I don’t think anyone knew exactly what was to come, but felt compelled to help.
As Derek’s wife, Pauline Hinge, puts it, “expect the unexpected.” I wound up sitting next to Jenny Klincke from our church, and I’d whispered to her at some point in the meeting that if there was anything I could do to help, to please contact me.
Well, a few weeks went by and then one day I got a call from Jenny, who asked me to come to the Windhill church center next Wednesday ‘to see what we are up to and see what you think.’ And so I went, not really knowing anything more than that. And there at the sign-in desk was Mione Goldspink. I introduced myself and said I came to help any way I could, and Mione told me she needed help with the sign-in desk on Wednesdays. I later told my children, ‘I got the job!’ even though at the time I didn’t even know what job it was I was going to do! I later learned that Jenny had planned to have me help make sandwiches in the kitchen, so I joked to my kids that I got promoted on my first day.
Now, several of you will know Mione is actively involved with Herts Welcomes Refugees, which was set up in 2016. She has also been involved with Churches Together, which has 10 member churches currently in Bishop’s Stortford. And when someone said that Churches Together should do something to help the refugees, she stepped forward and offered to form a committee. It just takes one spark to kindle the fire.
From there, Bishop’s Stortford Ukrainian Guests Support was borne. Four local churches offered their facilities – St Michael’s Church, along with St Joseph’s Catholic church, offered their facilities on Wednesday mornings. The Methodist church offered space on a Friday morning, and the Charis Centre in town offered Monday mornings. Nearly 15 teachers came forward and offered their help to teach English as a second language. A few people living here already who spoke Ukrainian came forward and offered to help translate. A WhatsApp group was set up to allow everyone involved – host families, guests, and volunteers – to exchange information and problem-solve as issues arose.
So now, on Wednesdays, between 11 and 2, I come to the centre and help put up the signs, take down people’s names and help with any other tasks that need doing. Volunteers from our church make sandwiches, coffee, and tea to serve for lunch. And the guests come to socialize with one another and also learn English.
Many of the guests are multi-talented and highly educated – we have a cake-baker, an events organizer, a professional photographer, an MBA, a criminologist, an accountant, and lawyers. They keep a brave face despite the worries they shoulder daily. I never cease to admire their strength and courage to keep going, despite the destruction happening to their loved ones back home. Most are women and children, from places like Odessa, Kharkhiv, Mariupol, Kyiev. Some are from Russia but speak Ukrainian, and some are from Ukraine but speak Russian.
On Fridays, the county has provided an ESOL teacher to run a certification course from October through March. This month, about 10 students are taking their qualification exam, thanks largely to the volunteer efforts of the churches and community to bring this all together and make it happen.
It hasn’t always been easy, and there have been challenges along the way. We seem to have stopped getting new people coming, and have stabilized at about 70 families total. Numbers fluctuate as people find work, change homes, go back to visit family, attend school or deal with the never-ending paperwork that must be processed for support. But there have been moments of positivity and hope. For example, there was a New Year’s party where we all danced, sang, played games and shared food together. On 25th of February, the guests organized a prayer service to mark the passing of a year since the invasion began. For many, understandably, this was a somber time of reflection.
And just as another example of the transformative power of like-minded people coming together to help others, when the earthquake happened in Turkey and Syria, a Turkish immigrant in Bishop’s Stortford sent out an appeal for winter coats and other supplies to box up and ship out to the people suffering in the bitter cold. This had been posted on the WhatsApp group and the mother of a 2-year-old Ukrainian boy came in the next morning with nappies and baby food to donate. I was so touched, because here was someone a refugee herself who was giving what little she had for others in the world who were suffering. Which made me think about how those who have the least often give the most.
Sometimes we want to make a difference, and help people, but don’t know where to start. Or the problem seems too big or too complicated. But as the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
We are called to be “the light of the world” according to Matthew 5:14 wherever we live and serve in the world. It just takes one person, or a few people, to step forward and be willing to take action in order to start a chain reaction of kindness and bring a community together for positive change. We can all do something, however small, and however seemingly insignificant, to contribute to an important cause. Together, our contributions can grow exponentially.
And that is what the Power of One is all about.
Written by Betty P
Submitted by Margaret S