Who have you helped lately?? What was your motivation to help them?
This summer we will have had 9 week-long teams who have come to serve in various capacities throughout our city. They come from places local to Ohio, and as far as from California. People tend to sign up for short term mission trips for different reasons I am sure. But generally I would assume most have the same goal in mind: To minister and help the people they are coming to serve.
Earlier this summer as I sat in my daughter’s therapy appointment, I watched as a man in a wheelchair struggled to press the button for the door to open automatically, and I caught myself about to jump without hesitation to his aid. And then I stopped myself and watched as he slowly and patiently was able to maneuver his hands in the right direction to finally press that button…
After he wheeled his way through the door I had to think about why I stopped myself. In the moment I think I realized that I assumed I should just help him because he was not able to push the button as easily as I could have, and it was taking him much longer. There were 3 scenarios in my head of what could have taken place: 1. I could have ran over and pressed the button without saying anything, assuming he would have wanted someone to just do it for him. 2. I could have gone over and asked him if he would like my help. 3. I could have just looked the other way since it was so uncomfortable for me to watch him struggle.
Then I began to think on why I help anyone at all. What are my motivations? Even with my daughter who is severely challenged in all physical areas. One thing I have noticed with many people she attempts to interact with, is that they are often quick to talk over her, or for her instead of patiently trying to really understand what she is trying to say. She can be difficult to understand and also does not speak in a typical speech pattern which often makes it seem like learning a foreign language when you are trying to figure out what she is saying if you do not know her well. It does take some extra patience even for me at times to stop and let her try to speak or ask questions to myself or another person because she even often gets stuck in a stutter. But I find it disappointing when she is so eager to express herself, even to strangers, and they are quick to put words in her mouth or walk away before she can finish. It is disappointing, and yet all the more disheartening for the other person because they are often missing out on a really precious conversation…..
Anyhow, after reflecting on this much, I think maybe that we are all just simply too busy and too impatient in this society to care enough about what another person’s needs actually are at times. I think often our first response is to act in the way that is the most comfortable and easiest for us. I wonder if our main focus was to love people first, and then decide where to go from there how that would change our actions? If all of our actions and words were filtered with love, perhaps we would become a lot more aware of what peoples’ needs actually are? After all, “Love is patient and kind…..It does not insist on its own way…” (1 Corinthians 13)
So I was thinking about all of this, and how with Envision we exist to come alongside individuals, communities, ministries, and government. We have been very careful not to portray our ministry as one that comes in and replaces, or does something better. We simply want to assist and help what already exists to reach more of their potential and share the love of Christ and pointing back to Him all along the way. I saw an interesting quote by Bob Goff posted on the Envision page recently,
“When Jesus rose from the dead He didn’t make a speech, He made breakfast for his friends.”
It made me think of how Jesus came and walked alongside His disciples and everyone else on earth. He did not instantly step in and fix all of the problems. He performed miracles only when He knew it would point back to the Father and reach people. He was extremely relational and patient. He took time to assess situations. He was quick to listen and slow to speak. He loved unconditionally.
It says in the book of John that Jesus revealed Himself a third time after His resurrection when the disciples were fishing without much success. After commanding them to throw the net to a different side, they then catch a ridiculous amount of fish. When they get to the shore to see Jesus, He had prepared a fire with fish and bread and told them to bring some of their own freshly caught fish. He sat along side them. They ate the food He had prepared and the food that they had brought. He then engaged in conversation with them and repeated the phrase He had said so many times throughout the Gospels, “Follow me.” Follow me. Follow my lead. Follow my ways. Follow my heart and my teachings.
This is at the heart of our ministry at Envision Cleveland. To live life with people, partner with organizations and churches to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To point everything back to Jesus, and in doing so to hopefully draw others to follow Him as well because they can see the love of Christ through us.
We have had many conversations this summer as we have hosted many team dinners and staff. We have had several conversations with people about witnessing and how to approach those who do not already know Christ. Some are surprised when we respond that we focus on loving people and building relationships over time and forming true friendships and allowing Jesus to draw them to Himself – whether through conversations that may occur after building strong relationships or through supernatural events that He places in peoples’ lives. Often it is a long time before we will see someone come to Christ. It takes patience and not insisting our own way. We have to see people as people not as projects or prizes to be won.
Often when we think of missions trips or ministry, it fits into a tidy box of passing out tracks and telling people “Jesus loves them.” And while these are not bad things, if they are not accompanied by relationship and discipleship, how will they really know the love of Jesus? It takes patience and kindness and hospitality! We can invite people to church and hand them a track or even a New Testament, but if we aren’t willing to open our home and lives to share with them, how are they truly going to see the Gospel in our lives? How will they truly know the love of Jesus if we are not intentionally inviting them into our lives and living life alongside them?
One of the most frequent responses we get from people on our short term teams is that they were encouraged to see how they can go back home and get involved in their own communities in similar tangible ways. It is easy to get stuck in our day to day routines and comfort zones. It is easy to only spend time with the people we already know, and enjoy the most. Lets just be real: it is easy to focus on what keeps us the most comfortable. Sometimes that may look like not helping someone because we would have to really go out of our way, and sometimes it is more comfortable to help someone by just stepping in and taking over because we do not want to see them struggle, and ultimately, it would take even more time to come alongside them and help.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Sams club. If you have ever gone to Sams you know that the parking is insane, and the handicap parking is even more insane… I don’t remember why Hudson was not with me on this particular day, or even why I thought it so urgent to go there with just myself and Rylie (like I must have done lost my mind) but after circling the parking lot twice to find all the handicap spots taken, I finally made my own by taking up two regular spots and grumbling under my breath about how I purposely got there right after it opened just to get a parking spot! So once inside after feeling frustrated about parking, and feeling a bit overwhelmed at attempting to push a giant Sams cart and Rylie in her wheelchair, I caught myself sarcastically talking in my head, “Wouldn’t it just be nice if an employee or some really nice person just thought – hey I should go help them with their cart…. Because that would never happen!!” I continued to make my way through the store and after grabbing the last item on my list I turned around to a girl who looked to be about 10 standing beside Rylie. She said, “Excuse me, I have a special needs brother and I saw you and your daughter and I was wondering if I could help you push your cart through the store while you shop? I already asked my mom if it was ok…” I look at her in total disbelief and just began to cry. I told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness but I was headed to the check out. I even hugged her I was so taken aback. Her motivation was coming completely from a place of love. She had a brother whom she clearly loved very much, and had given her the compassion and capacity to love others. Because of the unique circumstance she has with her brother, it has clearly forced her to be stretched and develop a natural compassion for people. While she did not have a choice in who her brother was and how that would shape her heart and world, we all have a choice in whether or not we are going out and truly loving our neighbors and our community. And I guarantee the more you step out of your comfort zone to meet people who are different than you or to even stop long enough to ask someone how they are doing…..for real, you will begin to see humanity in a whole new way, and it will stretch you and grow you in ways you would not believe!
Above all we need to focus on loving people, and realizing that in doing so it may look different in every circumstance and person. Sometimes it is asking a person directly, “How can I help you?” Or “What can I do?” And sometimes it may be simply asking the question, “How are you doing?, How are you really doing?” And just being a friend and a good listener. Love first.
Or as Andy Mineo says, “So if you wanna live a comfortable life, Make sure you never love nobody, be selfish and never sacrifice.” (from his album “Uncomfortable”)