Allegra Miller, Los Angeles, CA, USA:

Our event took place at a Head Start. We photographed the low-income families there, also providing free food, hair and makeup and childcare. Because our program is government funded, a father said to me, “I’m so grateful to the government for doing this for us…” I explained to him that this in fact was not put on by the government but funded by missional grant money from our church, Reality LA, and staffed by my friends from church who are here simply because they want to be. He was shocked. He told me, “I know you all are doing this out of love, there’s no other reason you would be giving so much. You have shown me what church should look like.” I knew he wasn’t talking about a building, or following a set of rules or morals, but living out Christ’s HUGE and unconditional love – and the fruit of love, peace and joy that filled that day and fills our days because of that. The volunteers didn’t just tell them the gospel, they showed it to them, and this spoke WAY louder.

I also spoke with a mother who has experienced domestic violence and continues to struggle with her marriage, while caring for her five children as a single mom, working only odd jobs here and there that she can get. I looked her in the eyes and asked her, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” She immediately began crying, and through the tears barely got the words out, “Thank you to all of you. I feel it.”

It was amazing to see families walk in the building not knowing what to expect, inward, quiet, and serious, and walk out with huge smiles on their faces, embracing who were once strangers, with joy in their hearts. I know it wasn’t just because they felt physically beautiful or got a piece of paper with their picture on it. But because they felt seen, heard, welcomed, and affirmed. We all had experienced a bit of life as God intended it – serving and loving one another with the goal of edification not of ourselves but to point to our maker who gives us all things. Parents couldn’t believe they were receiving this for free, and we couldn’t believe the change that occurred as they realized that the day and portrait truly was for free.

Anyone can come together to make a huge difference. While these low-income families has physical needs that need to be met, their unseen needs are just as, if not more, important. Through this Help-Portrait event we were able to show people love not just in empty words but in actions – in serving all day just to be with them, in affirming their beauty inside and out, in welcoming them into an environment of compassion, joy, peace, and love created by the volunteers that served for no selfish gain. It was a blessing for the parents, many of whom, never have an opportunity to do anything for themselves or be served or take time out just to enjoy each other without the burdens of their daily struggles to get by, and it was also a blessing for the volunteers who were filled up and changed just by purposing to love on other people who they did not know and seeing the change in them as the day progressed. We were all radically transformed by the experience.