Sept/Oct 2018 Article: Spark in the Dark
How a Facebook Post Changed Everything
By Abagail Byar
Have you ever gone somewhere you didn’t want to go? Did something that you didn’t want to do? And did it out of desperation? Me too, and it changed my life forever.
Three years ago, I had began attending a local church seeking purpose, something different. My life had taken bad turn after bad turn, and I needed to make a major shift. I was struggling and depressed and felt that I had no direction.
So six months in and after multiple invitations, I dragged myself into my first women’s Bible study in the fall of 2015. Terrified and apprehensive, I went. I recall thinking the following, as I walked through the church doors:
“It isn’t too late to turn around–and run.”
“I love God. But I don’t like large groups. Especially of women I don’t know.”
“Ah crap. Spotted. Too late to turn back now.”
It’s important to note that before walking into this church, I had experienced abuse, the effects of alcoholism, the death of a parent, rape, teenage pregnancy, the beginning of a VERY bad divorce, single motherhood, and even a brief stint of homelessness – just to name a few.
Regardless of my past, I was always intentional about being optimistic and kind. But, because of my upbeat personality, it was often assumed that I was young and lacked life experience. In my early years, I used to thoroughly enjoy helping those who labeled me as naïve, insert their foot into their mouth with my horror stories.
Until one day, after a particularly impressive pity party for one (thrown by yours truly), it occurred to me that leveraging my pain and darkness to gain respect and admiration from my peers was not only ineffective, it was creating a bigger divide when what I really wanted was connection. Once I started attending church, I decided that I would no longer lead my story with the darkest moments in my life, as I had found that, in doing so, those dark moments often led ME mostly down paths I did not like.
As I sat at my table waiting for the women’s study to begin that day, I took to the bad habit of eavesdropping.
To my left, three women discussed their desire to volunteer, but their frustration with endless paperwork and inconvenient volunteer hours. They said it lacked the fulfillment they were seeking.
To my right a woman was offering a bedroom set to a young lady who had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and had been left with nothing. “It’s just collecting dust in my garage–I would rather you have it. Having something of your own is empowering.”
This next part you can call whatever you want, I call it “the God dream.” I went to bed that night pondering the conversations I had overheard–wondering if helping others was the fulfillment I was missing. If so, how could I help when I didn’t have much money, or time for that matter?
I drifted off that night and found myself in a dream that has been familiar to me since the passing of my dad when I was 12– a bench in the woods where I would sit with my father and discuss life.
Only in this dream, it wasn’t my dad who appeared. A figure joined me that was as solid as it was translucent. I often describe it as having a face that was both everyone and no one all at once. Ever changing from young to old, thin to plump, every race and every color. The figure had only one message for me:
“Connect others. Do not judge them, love them. Do not worry where they came from or what they have done. Lead them with love and kindness, have a heart to help. You do this, and I will do the rest.”
Yes, it sounds a little crazy. YES, I do feel crazy every time I share this story; but sometimes the biggest and most important moments of your life are the ones that leave people looking at you a little sideways, wondering if you are stable.
The Facebook Post
I woke up unable to shake the voice, but with a strange clarity on exactly how to connect people. That night I created a Facebook page called “Spark in the Dark.” I added 50 people with varying backgrounds thinking that if it could connect even a few people it would be a success. The only direction I gave on the page was:
“Our mission here at Spark in the Dark is to connect people in need, charities/nonprofits/organizations, and those who want to help all in one spot to make the world a better place. We simply ask that you post what you need, and post what you can afford to give. As a group, let us start a spark in someone else’s darkness and help to make the whole world bright.”
By morning there were 350 members and the numbers and free items offered continued to climb by the hour.
Now, I had intended for the group to help PEOPLE; however, in true Spark in the Dark fashion, the micro community had different ideas right out of the gate (and still usually do).
The Guinea Pig
Our first “client” was a diabetic Guinea Pig who needed to be rehomed at a rescue center. No, I am not lying–a brown adorable floppy eared guinea pig was the first Spark member in need of help! The radical acts of kindness that continue to happen in this group never cease to amaze and inspire me and while we still help the occasional animal, our scope has broadened significantly.
People sometimes struggle to understand why a group such as this took off so quickly, as it is far from the first “free group” on Facebook. Initially, many are under the impression that it is all about “stuff” that individuals need or have to give away–and that is a part of it; but nowhere near the most important part.
The Blank Check
One of my favorite examples of why Spark in the Dark is so successful happened a year and a half ago when a single mother of two young boys came to me desperate to keep from being evicted.
I could tell immediately that she was a strong woman not too keen on asking for help, but she had three days to find $1,300 or be homeless. We were her last resort. I posted on the group on her behalf that Thursday and anxiously awaited a miracle.
Friday passed with no help, and that Saturday was the slowest day I have ever experienced… I alternated between staring at the post waiting for something to happen and counting my money to see if I could somehow afford to give her the $1,300 myself, but I, too, was a single mom raising young kids and didn’t have an extra two dimes to rub together.
Around midnight, right as I felt my heart sinking into my chest because she was the first person we hadn’t been able to help – Ping! I get a Facebook message from a woman I did not know telling me that she wanted to donate $500 to the woman being evicted because she had been in a similar scenario as this mom many years ago; $500 was not $1,300 but it would help.
Even now as I type this, the tears run down my cheeks as I recall what happened next and the power it still holds over me.
We decided we would meet at the church Sunday morning. We all walked in, three strangers (and two little boys) and after hello’s and a hug, the check was given. It wasn’t for $500. And it wasn’t for $1,300. It was signed, and blank. The mom was told to write it for whatever was needed to save her home and get her back on her feet. We all wept openly together that day. For the mom, for the boys, and perhaps even for our shared spark in humanity and kindness in that moment, in the church on the hill where it all began.
Almost three years later, Spark in the Dark is an official nonprofit with an office at Mosaic Church and has over 8,300 members in the Northern Michigan area working together to meet the needs of strangers in their community.
Last year alone, we were able to assist in around 12,000 situations by connecting people with everything from advice to employment to physical items (such as baby clothing and furniture).
At the end of the day, Spark in the Dark isn’t about the “stuff,” because there will always be stuff, it is about something far more powerful: Community. Compassion. Connection. And perhaps most importantly, about what happens to the soul when a spark is ignited.
Abagail Byar is the proud mother of two children, Aiden and Scarlett, the founder of Spark in the Dark, and the program director of Helplink in Traverse City. She is also currently a serving and founding member of the Mosaic Church launch team, and exploring pastoral ministry through the United Methodist Church. You can email Abagail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT IS SPARK IN THE DARK?
Spark in the Dark is a rapidly growing Northern Michigan-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals and organizations in our community to directly help one another in times of need.
With a membership of over 8,300 individuals to date, Spark in the Dark estimates that in 2017 alone they were able to assist in approximately 12,000 situations by connecting people to one another for everything from advice to employment to physical items such as baby clothing and furniture.
The organization is focused on bringing the human connection back into giving by providing a platform where people can directly connect with one another to provide support, kindness and encouragement along with physical items given to one another in times of need.
Visit www.sparkinthedark.org or Spark in the Dark on Facebook
Abagail will be the keynote speaker at GTWoman’s Wednesday, Oct. 10th “Be the Spark!” luncheon at The Hagerty Center from 11am-1pm. Hear more about her powerful story and perhaps even ignite a little spark of your own! Visit www.grandtraversewoman.com for more information and to join us.