(Book begins with the Preface in the January 31 post.)
Please note: This chapter was written several years ago. Some of the activities we supported then have changed, but the principles of the illustration remain the same.
It can become very easy as “do-gooders” to throw money, or even prayers, at causes and feel it is enough. We go on living in our sanitized world. We take our abundance for granted. That’s why I believe it’s important for me to be involved in social compassion here at home. I need to walk among those our society leaves behind, recognize the advantages I have been granted and do something to make the situation more equitable. The disciples were first sent to minister in their local towns and cities, and I must venture out and do the same.
I still have to remember that I can’t do it all. And so, as I look for the places and ways God wanted me to serve locally, I need to revisit the things that concerned me most. I pray about different areas of service, and choose one or two that I can commit to faithfully. Over the years, this has meant serving in different areas, each one using one of my gifts.
For a few years, my love of reading led me to work as a tutor for English-as-a-second-language students. Their willingness to learn inspired me. Their questions about our inconsistent language made me smile. Their friendships warmed my heart and enriched my prayer life.
At other times, my love for children has led me to establish “big sister” type arrangements with several kids who needed an accepting adult in their lives. It only cost a bit of time, a few hours a month spent focused on them. It only cost a bit of money, making sure birthdays and Christmas were special, not with an abundance of gifts, but with presents that fit their interests. It did, however, cost a great deal of love—I found the children stole my heart—and my husband’s as well.
In our case, losing our hearts led to taking Debbie and Joy into our home, to work toward adoption. It was not a move I had ever anticipated. It was a much greater commitment than I ever planned on making. And that is one scary thing about following Jesus into the lives of others. He may gently bring you to a place you never thought you would be, and what joy awaits you.
But what pain may come, too. Debbie chose to leave our family after a year and a half, just before custody was finalized. Joy stayed and brought the joy her name promised but also pain as she later rebelled and made poor choices. Nevertheless, the girls enriched our lives and we, theirs.
Loving Debbie and Joy, and others in similar circumstances, heightened my awareness of how vital a stable home is to a child’s development and future success. Living in substandard housing, being forced to move often because of rising rent costs, makes children insecure. Therefore, now that Joy was grown, I wanted to be involved with our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Habitat’s mission of providing everyone a simple, decent place to live was one I could identify with.
Unfortunately, most tools, when placed in my hand, become tools of destruction, usually to my own person. I have found ways to serve, though, and use my unique abilities. I can organize a work crew and get them to the site. My writing and organizing skills have proved valuable on their fund-raising committee. And every now and again, they allow me to pound a few nails (some of them are even in straight).
Once I have settled on one or two ongoing ministries of service, I politely decline most other ongoing ministry opportunities. I can do this without guilt, knowing this is where God has placed me. I still enjoy participating in single service days with my church family, whether it’s serving one evening in a soup kitchen or planting a garden for an elderly woman. But I don’t feel guilty about not committing more time or money. I know my place in God’s design, and until God clearly changes it, that’s where I’ll serve.
I’m white, upper middle class, raised in baby-boom suburbia with all the advantages it offered. My dad was an upper-level manager with a large corporation, one that gave me a scholarship that paid for half of my college education. To put it bluntly, I’m privileged. And even if I didn’t have all those advantages but just had an average American lifestyle, I’m still privileged, still richer than most people in our world.
I can’t just thank God for blessing me by allowing me to be born in this country, to my parents. I need to look at ways to change our society and our world so others have equal access to opportunity, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender or the country they were born in.
Unfortunately, impacting the injustice that is part of our politics and or economy is an area I’m not yet very good at. I haven’t really found my place, but I’m asking God to show me. I joined Bread for the World, an organization that lobbies for elimination of policies that contribute to world hunger. And I signed up at One.org to receive e-mails about how each one of us can impact our world to eliminate poverty. With their encouragement and sample letters, I occasionally write or e-mail my governmental leaders to encourage changes in unjust policies.
I also joined Co-op America (now Green America), which informs me of what corporations are doing in terms of sweatshops, environmental issues and care for their employees. I have written a few times to corporations or retailers I frequent about their unjust manufacturing and purchasing policies when they make the news. Just this year, God began to challenge my buying habits, asking me to take these issues into consideration, even if it meant spending more and owning fewer things. I struggle to obey, to pass up a sale, but it’s all part of the tension on my tightrope.
In this arena, I’m still a novice, testing my wings. Frankly, it’s easy to ignore the need to change the rules that have led to my “winning” the game of life. I still find myself swinging back and forth on the do something/do nothing pendulum, letting guilt be my chief motivator. But I know I’m a work in progress; God will bring me, even here, to my place.
What was to follow this were chapters that described different areas of service in hunger, housing, education, health care, employment, environment and opportunities.