September 6, 2019
By Rev. Dawn Livingston
I had a conversation earlier today with someone who said simply, “we help other people because it’s the right thing to do.” I agree with that 100% – without a doubt. Yet, for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus, it runs deeper. Not only is it the “right” thing to do, it’s the thing Jesus would do. Again and again we read scripture that shows us the heart of God through the life of Christ. Jesus dined with so-called sinners, touched the labeled untouchables, talked with the rejects of society. Jesus loved those who some identified as “other” or “less than.”
We are challenged to do the same.
Not only should we help other people because it’s the right thing – the Christ-centered thing – to do, but we should do so with a mindset of walking alongside our neighbor. (Because who does Jesus say our neighbor is? See Luke 10:25-37.) Walking alongside is more than simply doing something for someone else. Friends, it’s good to help someone, but it’s even better when we can come alongside, building relationship and not only getting to help someone else, but having our own life impacted as well.
This is one of the things we delight in seeing when teams come for a week of missions during the summer (all year, really!). This past summer we focused on the theme of “Be,” that is, being present, in community, in service, authentic, and becoming who God calls us, based on the scripture passage of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10: 38-42. (Side note, or something that make you say “hmm”: this follows directly after the parable of the Good Samaritan, referenced above.) When we are present, authentic and in service, something amazing happens, because it’s more than just about the home repairs at hand, it’s about building community.
And we, too, are changed.
We’re on the other side of summer missions 2019, already looking ahead and planning for 2020. Over 650 participants walked alongside neighbors in our rural community this past summer. These teams, which came from all over the Southeast and beyond, took part in almost 250 projects spread across 35 work sites. We had a lot of people working on a lot of tasks over the 10 weeks of summer missions.
One of the wrap-ups we do here at Hinton Center is scour through every single evaluation we receive from both youth and adult participants. Every.single.one. We do this so we can see what worked and what needs a little more TLC. We also do it to see what impact the missions experience had on those who came to serve.
When asked “What did you learn this week and in what ways did you experience God?,” participants wrote:
· I’ve learned that it’s okay to “bee” who you are.
· To be me, and I became closer to God.
· When I would help someone or someone would help me.
· I have learned to be myself because God created me just right.
· Learning to step outside myself and understand others in a different way.
· This week was a refresher of the reason I go to church and it made me want to get involved with my community more.
· I learned to use my gifts to do what God calls me to do.
· That God loves me for me.
· I learned that we are all the same. All of us have needs at different times in our lives. Be willing to give and receive help.
· I prayed a real prayer to God for the first time in a long time.
THIS is what it means to follow Jesus and be in ministry with our neighbors. Not only do we see transformation of the community or of someone’s home, but we see real changes in ourselves. Sometimes it requires us to step outside of our comfort zones or stretch our understanding. Sometimes it means trusting God and completely stepping out in faith.
It’s not easy and sometimes it’s downright messy, literally speaking with the work required, and relationally speaking because it can be heart-wrenching to learn someone else’s story and walk with them on their journey. It requires vulnerability because it’s not just about learning their story, it’s about sharing a piece of our own.
In the midst of the hurricane and other natural disasters, tragedies, and news of what’s going on in the US and around the world, it can be overwhelming. It can hurt. It can feel like our efforts are too small or insignificant. I know, because sometimes I get overwhelmed and feel like I’m not doing enough. When I take my focus off of Jesus, off of being present and in the moment, off of doing what I can right where I am with what I have available, I get discouraged. Yet, I find hope in the moments of joy found in the smile on a teenager’s face after a long day of working in the hot sun, and the stories of transformation I hear from our college student summer staff, the youth and adults who serve, and the neighbors we walk alongside. There is hope.
I’ve been at Hinton Center for three years now, and it is sometimes draining and challenging work, but it’s kingdom-minded work. There are so many joys through seeing the summer staff grow in their faith journeys and some discern calls into ministry. There is so much hope in hearing how a week of service inspires someone to go back home and find ways to make an impact. There is such excitement around seeing the bigger picture here in this rural, Appalachian area through our focus on safe and healthy home repairs. We’re building relationships with our neighbors and working towards building stronger, healthier communities. We are trying to follow Jesus. We are trying to walk alongside our neighbors because it’s the right thing – the Christ-centered thing – to do, and we invite you to enter into the journey with us.