The roasted vegetables smelled really good. I’d been standing behind the serving counter for an hour picking up clean plates from my left, scooping out a generous spoonful of those veggies and passing the plate to the person on my right who filled the rest of the plate with spaghetti. It smelled really good. I was hungry.
He was hungry. His back was slightly bent. He hadn’t shaved for a while. It was a cold day, but he didn’t have a warm coat on. He came to the homeless shelter at the same time everyday, and stood in the same line which wound around the building. He was a regular, and he knew that hungry men like himself were allowed into the dining room in shifts so that there was room for everyone to sit down in a warm place to eat.
I was hungry. He was hungry. But I wasn’t as hungry as he was. Looking him in the eye, I acknowledged his dignity and greeted him with a smile and an overflowing plate of roasted vegetables and spaghetti.
There’s something good about serving alongside your staff and students when you aren’t wearing the hat of leader or director. It puts everyone on an even level and let’s face it, there’s something about looking hungry people in the eye and handing them something hot to eat that removes any sense of hubris.
Wikipedia, that vast bastion of ever evolving information, says, “Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving your life to something you believe free of pay.”
at the Rescue Mission
I agree, but I’d also add that when campus ministers and ministry leaders put our love in action by serving alongside of our students, we demonstrate the Gospel in a deeper way. With over 300 verses in the Bible about the poor, social justice, and God’s concern for both, putting my faith in action seems like a reasonable act of worship.
For years I’ve thought about volunteering on a regular basis. I had a roommate four years ago who spent one night a week in a local soup kitchen. I didn’t even know that our small city had a soup kitchen. As I watched her go week after week, I thought about how she put her faith in action so well. I put my faith in words very well, but I felt a great divide between my words and deeds. I justified my lack of intentional effort to serve others by my full time ministry role (unpredictable hours, seasons of craziness, I’m already trying to meet the spiritual needs of so many), but lots of people experience similar work stresses and still find time to help people.
This fall I’ve volunteered at a homeless shelter and a warehouse with supplies for the underprivileged. Yes, it takes a bit of time to get there, and I have to say “no” to other great opportunities to keep those time slots open. But those few hours spent serving people in need (people in REAL need) while connecting with my students have given me some sweet gifts and insights. I walk away so grateful for how faithfully God has provided for me. I walk away with a full heart of worship, having had my heart touched by compassion. I walk away knowing that someone else’s hard life was made just a little sweeter because of those few hours. I walk away with a greater appreciation for the decisions my students make to be there every month, and I get to know my students in a different context.
What’s the next step? I want to model servant leadership by helping “the least of these” without an agenda to advance my own purposes. For me, it’s to commit to a monthly time to serve at the homeless shelter. I’d like to make it weekly like my former roommate, but I’ll start with small steps.
What about you?
Earlier that first volunteer day I almost backed out of going to the homeless shelter. “I’m just so tired,” I thought as the time flashed up that strange greenish color on the microwave clock. I didn’t know if I had the energy to make the subway trek down to the Bowery Mission. Enough of our students said they wanted to volunteer at the soup kitchen to serve meals to homeless men that I didn’t think it would make a difference if I showed up.
But it did. It made a big difference. To him, to my students, and to me.
originally posted on the CruPressGreen Campus Ministry Blog on 15 December 2011