They’re as different as night and day”. I’ve heard those words throughout my life, but they never seemed truer than when I worked on a service project on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. I know it sounds strange to say you are serving others in a place like Honolulu. From the tourist’s eye each hour of daylight displays the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. The waves gently break upon the pristine sand beaches. Families play together under brilliant, blue skies. Couples walk hand in hand along the shore while sea foam soothingly caresses their shoeless feet. It appears to be paradise found once again.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Yet when the sun sets over the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean, Waikiki Beach transforms into another world. Families depart for their hotel suites; surfers pack up their boards in hope that tomorrow might provide the perfect wave. Couples make their way to a quiet, romantic dinner. There is a hush that settles over this dream destination. However, the serenity over Waikiki lasts only for a short while.
Within moments of darkness falling, hundreds if not thousands of homeless people descend upon the beaches, streets and parks. Coming from every direction they carry their possessions in plastic bags or tattered packs. Before long they had laid out their sleeping mats upon the still warm sand and prepared for the evening ahead. These people were the reason I had come to Hawaii. They were the ones I wanted to understand and hopefully encourage.
It was Tuesday morning when our team began preparing for our weekly food distribution at Waikiki Beach. I was surprised that we set up our tents, tables, and chairs right on the beach. One of the local leaders must have seen the confusion on my face, so he said to me, “We bring everything to Waikiki because this is where the people need it most. This is their beach too.” Then it hit me. All I had ever seen was the Waikiki Beach from postcards. It may have been all I wanted to see. Yet now I was here, surrounded by tourists on one side and homeless men and women on the other. Day and night had come together in a strange and surreal way.
By noon the homeless crowds had arrived in force. I assumed that they would line up to receive their lunches much like I did in elementary school. However, I soon discovered that things worked a bit differently here in Hawaii. Instead of standing behind a table and handing them their lunches, my job was to take two lunches and find someone who would share a lunch with me. This was hard for me. I guess it seemed fine to give someone a free lunch, protected by the barrier of a plastic table. However, this required something much more demanding, much more personal.
Not wanting to appear scared in front of my family, I made my way over to a man named Michael. His feet were cracked and blistered. His face was unshaven. Emptiness seemed to fill his eyes as well as his stomach. I introduced myself to him and asked if he would like some lunch. I had no idea how to start a conversation with him, so Michael spoke up and broke the ice. I was surprised how easy it was to talk with him. He told me how much it meant that I would sit down and visit with him. Anyone could see that we were as different as night and day, but on this day, we shared a lunch as friends.
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