SAYREVILLE, New Jersey — The father had been told his child wouldn’t survive. He needed someone to talk to, to cry with. Someone just to listen.
And there was volunteer Tina Marshall giving a tour of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to gospel artist William McDowell. The father stopped them and began to talk. Marshall remembers it as a “God moment.”
“He began to speak about the difference that St. Jude had made in his life,” she said. “One of the things he said to us was St. Jude and the staff of St. Jude had made it the most memorable experience for him and his family and his child.
“We were in the hallway crying with him. It was heartbreaking. I believe he just needed to talk with someone and we were there, we heard his story, we encouraged him, we cried with him. That was the most memorable moment for me.”
This is the kind of deeply personal touchstone so many supporters have with the St. Jude mission. For Marshall, a St. Jude Sunday of Hope program coordinator for the past seven years, it was a connection like no other. To this day she can summon it, lean on it for inspiration and strength.
Sunday of Hope is a weeks-long program raising awareness among congregations and earmarking a specific Sunday when parishioners are given the opportunity to donate. Marshall sat on the National Advisory Board of the Sunday of Hope Program and has been Volunteer Coordinator for the New York and New Jersey region. In working with churches throughout New Jersey, such as Shiloh Baptist in Plainfield, Agape Family Worship Center in Rahway and Abundant Life Church in New Brunswick, she has helped raise more than $500,000.
These days she lives in nearby Sayreville and is proud of the work her new church is doing for the St. Jude mission. “Pastor Dr. Lester Taylor and Community Baptist have been amongst the top churches raising funds in New Jersey and the United States,” she said.
Nationwide, the Sunday of Hope program has united more than 600 congregations behind the St. Jude mission since 2008, raising millions for the cause of finding cures and saving children.
Marshall was born and raised in the church, one of eight children to parents who understood the importance of giving back. They were missionaries who “really believed that missions didn’t have to be overseas, didn’t have to be in another country,” Marshall said. “There were missions that needed to be addressed within the community.”
And yet here was St. Jude, a thousand miles away from home. There were needs unmet in her own community, in Sayreville where she raises two children and where she and her husband run a courier business together. What did she know about a children’s hospital in Memphis?
It turns out, not much. Not until a representative from ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, visited Shiloh Baptist. There was a video. There was a short presentation. And there was the mission. “I was pulled in from there,” Marshall said. “It was life-changing for me. As a mother, just to hear the work that St. Jude was doing and the fact that it was done free of charge for families, that blew me away.”
Community, it turns out, is borderless. Empathy acts as a conduit, a handshake between cities and states, a hug between a grieving father and a Good Samaritan with an overflowing heart.
She later learned of the long history St. Jude has with the research and treatment of sickle cell disease. Another moment of inspiration. Another moment connecting Marshall with St. Jude and “a cousin who had it and battled with it for many years,” she said. “She passed away as I was planning one of the events we do with churches … She passed away at the age of 26. So we were able to dedicate that particular event to her memory.”
New Jersey is known as the Garden State. And if blue violets and Northern Red Oaks bloom and blossom there, then so do love and compassion and a commitment to community. Marshall has gathered a bouquet’s worth of moments to hand out, to share with churches and congregations statewide. Her calling, she said, is to recruit them to the Sunday of Hope program, to sow the seeds of love and care in this fertile, faithful garden.
All told, Marshall has helped connect upwards of 30 churches around the state to the program and hopes to take her template for success nationwide. “The secret to the success,” she said, “is understanding the faith-based sector. It is a sector that is very personable, very friendly and very giving.”
That understanding begins at the local level, with those in the community who have a personal relationship with pastors and other members of congregations throughout the state and regionally across the United States willing to volunteer and get the good word out.
It’s this very community Marshall understands and carries in her heart. It’s this community where her parents would feed the homeless, their eight children in tow. This community where they ministered to the incarcerated.
“I think that I was one of the ones that traveled the most with my parents because I sang,” she said.
From a childhood steeped in service and song was born Tina Marshall the adult, whose life today is rooted in faith and community, and the example set by her parents, whose door was always open. “We had the type of home, if someone we knew was in need they came to our house. You need a meal? Come to our house. You need a place to stay for a couple of days? Come to our house.”
A family of Good Samaritans. St. Jude, she would later learn, was built upon the ideal behind the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “to love and care for our neighbor, regardless of color or creed.”
For Marshall, that neighbor is found in church pews and fellowship halls across the state of New Jersey. He was in the hallway of St. Jude that day, looking for comfort and a sympathetic ear. Through a lifetime of lessons from parents and pastors her heart has filled, and she’s poured it back into her community, watering that garden so hope, faith and healing might bloom.