Mary Michael has made a career out of volunteering. She
has been a volunteer in a children's hospital in London,
a CASA worker, a reading tutor in a literacy program,
a tutor in a mentor program at a middle school, a
"Meals on Wheels" volunteer, and an active
participant in "Project Linus" (making quilts
and blankets for children in stressful situations).
In our interview, she shared some of her amazing experiences
and revealed how prayer and inspiration from the Bible
helped her help others transform their lives.
Your career has been in volunteering. How did
you become a volunteer?
My husband's job caused us to move a great deal, and
being a volunteer was one job I could do anywhere,
anytime, and for any length of time.
What were some of your volunteer jobs?
Almost all involved children. When we were in England
and my children were in school, I volunteered at a
children's hospital for the incurable. They had never
had a volunteer. The women were quite suspicious.
It took them a little while to believe that I was
just coming to work with the children. I worked with
a little 3 year-old boy (who looked 18 months) who
had been left at the hospital because he had a heart
condition; his parents felt they couldn't take care
of him. The only contact he had was with a nurse who
would change his diaper, put a bottle in his mouth,
and leave. When I first started with him, he had kind
of a blank look. I would go out two times a week and
talk constantly to him, take him on the swing, hold
him. He had never sat up or walked or anything, and
during the time we worked together, he learned to
sit up and respond to people. I was there at least
a year. When it was time for me to return to the States,
I didn't know what was going to happen to him, so
What did you pray?
I think my prayer dealt with the fact that we are
all children of God, and that He loves us equally.
God's love could come through many different ways.
I felt very confident about this, even though I didn't
know if another individual would be there to care
for him. But he rightly deserved God's love. I went
in and the nurse met me and told me that when the
little boy's mother had come and brought his shoes,
the little boy said, "Mama." The mother
recognized that he was capable of recognizing her
and responding to her, so they took their son home.
What an answer to prayer! You
were also a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
What did you do as a CASA worker?
A CASA worker is appointed by the judge when there
is a critical situation when children are removed
from their parents' home because they are not safe.
CASA requires about 30 hours of training in which
we are informed of the rules of the court and our
responsibilities. As a CASA worker, I was a little
bit of a private detective and lawyer, as I would
write a report and give it to the judge before the
court day. The judge would rely on the CASA worker
rather than the lawyer. There was always a lawyer
for a child, but often the lawyer didn't see the child
except at the court date. We were the eyes and the
ears of the court for a child; we spoke for the child.
The CASA worker agreed to visit the children no less
than every other week, usually for an hour. We were
with the children, visited their schools, talked to
their teachers, and sometimes visited their pastors
to really understand the situation. The first goal
was to get the children back home. If it became apparent
that there was no way of fixing that home, then the
next goal was to get them adopted with parental permission.
I worked to gain the trust of the child first and
then of the parents.
What challenges did you face trying to get the
children back home?
The biggest challenge was trying to get the parent
squared around. Often alcohol, drugs, or a bad relationship
had caused the problems. Parents needed to take courses
and do other work to go back to being parent. It was
heartbreaking in many cases because some parents could
just not respond. But when they did, and the children
were able to return home, the CASA worker monitored
What role did prayer play in working through different
Prayer was very important. I could choose my own assignment.
I would start with the first chapter of Genesis: "God
saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it
was very good" (1:31). There were some situations
where the parents had done something very cruel. I
decided it was my job to look beyond the appearance
and know that inside those parents was the good that
God had created. I knew I could speak to the good
and love in them and that they would respond. People
respond to love. We were able to work through tough
situations because I was not judgmental.
Can you share some of the specific cases you've
A mother who was border-line mentally disabled had
left a child in a high chair. The child fell out and
was seriously hurt. The mother lied about what happened.
I made the decision that I was not going to speak
to that disabled mentality; I was going to speak to
the intelligence that God had given the mother. She
was basically a loving person; she had just made some
really bad mistakes. Speaking to the intelligence
and love in her helped her finish all the classes.
She gave up drinking, and she met a wonderful man
who loved the children. She met him when she was walking
to the hospital, carrying one of her three children.
She didn't have any transportation, and he picked
them up and drove them. I kept wondering why this
man was coming into this situation. Finally I had
to ask him. He saw that she really was loving and
wanted to do the right thing. It was his way of expressing
God's love. They finally married. She needed the sense
of stability he provided. I hear from them every once
in a while; they're doing well.
That was one of the happy ones. There were those
situations in which the children weren't able to return
home. But I felt that in each case, we got the children
into a better situation.
How did you decide to become a CASA worker?
I saw an ad in the paper that there was a desperate
need for people to be advocates for children. It struck
me as something I would like to do.
How did you hold up emotionally, because you probably
saw some pretty drastic situations?
I have to admit, I spent many sleepless nights ruminating
before I would finally come to and start praying.
I would turn to my Bible and get inspiration. A great
majority of the individuals with whom I worked responded.
There were even some with whom I could pray and share
a Bible verse.
What verses did you find helpful?
One of my favorite is:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean
not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
(Prov. 3:5, 6)
I shared this passage often. It gave these individuals
a direction. It gave them their responsibility: their
responsibility was to turn to and trust in God and
then to listen to God's guidance. This would help
keep them on the straight and narrow, doing what was
right for them to do. For example: the woman with
the mental disability would get so close to finishing
her courses, but then panic and blow it. So, we prayed
together and saw that she could "trust in the
Lord." God was guiding her, enabling her to do
what she needed to do. We acknowledged Him as her
intelligence. Near the end of the year in which the
mother had to complete all her coursework, the foster
mother with whom the children had been living had
been given a cruise for the last two weeks. This would
have nullified all the work that the mother had done
to get her children back. I told the judge and lawyers
that this was absolutely not right. The judge told
me that the children could go home for the last two
weeks if I would check on them every day. I did. God
had directed them the whole way.
What other types of volunteer work have you done?
While most of the work has been with children, the
first summer we lived in Florida, there was a desperate
plea for people to do "Meals on Wheels"
-- deliver a hot meal to elderly people living alone.
It was a way to help them and check up on them. So,
I signed up, and it's been absolutely delightful.
The challenge has been that from time to time, you
run into situations where they are quite seriously
ill. And that's why you're there -- to catch those
situations. Not too long ago, I pulled up to the door
at the house of one of my ladies, and the son was
sitting on the steps. I asked if everything was okay.
Her son replied that she had died that morning. After
a few words, I started leaving, but I had to turn
back around; I just couldn't leave it there. I told
him, "Your mother and I have had such wonderful
conversations about God. She told me, 'I know that
God loves me and I'm in God's care.' And then she'd
ask, 'Well, will you pray for me?' I assured her that
I would pray. I am absolutely confident that she knew
that she would be in God's loving care, no matter
what. And I'm convinced that she is in God's loving
arms." He said, "Thank you, lady, that's
just want I needed to hear." Most of these people
I've been with two years now, and it's always been
my privilege to put them in God's care. It takes about
an hour and a half to do the route, and I silently
acknowledge that they're living in Love and that they're
not alone and not afraid.
You've also done work with illiterates. How was
In the first place, it takes a tremendous amount of
courage for adult illiterates to walk into an office
and say, "I don't know how to read." They
have spent their life covering up. It's amazing the
things they get by with, saying they've forgotten
their glasses, asking their children to read as an
exercise or having others read while they worked and
listened. When I was in New Orleans, one particular
woman came in and said she wanted not to lie to her
minister and say she had forgotten her glasses when
he handed her the Bible to read. So we started in,
and we used the Bible as our reading book. As I recall,
we started in the New Testament with stories that
were familiar to her. She was quite a church goer.
I think it was probably about a year that I had worked
with her before we were leaving. I was concerned,
wondering if she had gotten it. I went to see her,
and she met me at the door with tears streaming down
her face. She told me that the minister handed her
the Bible, and she had read it. She couldn't stop
reading the Bible.
What would you say this has done for you?
There aren't words to say. It fills me so full. I
think that I have learned to love so many different
kinds of people from different walks of life that
I never would have known. I have had the opportunity
to realize all their wonderfulness. I have seen people
express joy in situations where one might ordinarily
wonder how there could be any joy at all. I have gained
such an appreciation for the goodness in all of us.
Your life has been dedicated to helping others.
You've had a wonderfully giving life.
I have had the privilege to do that, and I've enjoyed
every minute of it. And I've thanked my husband for
allowing me to use my time exactly as I've wanted
-- to express my own sense of individuality and understanding
of God's goodness and love for His creation..