Let’s try an international story for today…imagine a group of people arriving in a majority world country. And by majority world, I refer to countries that are typically called ‘third world’ or ‘developing.’ I try to avoid these terms as much as possible, so that my language works to fight against the negative and marginalizing implications of the terms ‘developing’ and ‘third world.’ It implies hierarchy and strips those cultures of dignity that is not ours to take away.
Now…where were we…yes, a group of people from the States have arrived in a majority world country. Maybe they have partnered there for years. Maybe it is a one and done scenario when they only intend to travel once. [I will save my soapbox on this one for a later time.] Many of the group have fundraised to be there, so they are representing many people in their intent to serve a church, school, orphanage, community, farm, etc. An entire network of people is praying for them. For their safety, travel, words as they talk to people, and experiences. They have brought donations as well that they have gathered from their network of people. They are on a travel high for a new adventure. They have talked to other groups in the airport, compared stories and exchanged Instagram names. They arrive to their accommodations and settle in to get some rest before hitting the ground running the next morning.
Their hearts are overflowing with their desire to serve and love others.
Now let’s imagine that they are working on helping at a building project. They work all day carrying concrete bricks, mixing concrete and making sure each other drinks enough water. They head back in the afternoon, and then do it all over again the next day for the whole week.
On the last day, someone gets into a conversation about why there are so many people standing around watching the group work. They ask if they have jobs…the local person they are talking to shares that the group has been doing the work of those who were watching, so they have not gotten paid and cannot feed their families or pay for school that week.
Let’s process this together, serving is holy and serving is exactly what Jesus asks us to do. But do we always think through who that serving is impacting and how that serving is affecting the community? Do we need to? I think a lot of people would ask, ‘if it is serving with a pure heart, then isn’t it still serving that honors God?’ Well, what Christian could argue that? Seriously, though, when Jesus said to love your neighbor, he also gives us the ability to use our heads and enter into relationships with who we are serving.
A lot of this is asking the right questions at the right time. Did the community they were working with let them build, because they brought money to build with? What professional skill set is most needed to complete the project? Was it a cultural hospitality thing and the relationships were not deep enough to trust each other with truth? Was it a lost in translation issue?
And the questions do not stop at the construction site. What will a donated t-shirt mean here when there are pallets of them that come from the States for free? How do the photos they take and put on Facebook represent the country they are visiting? Have they learned enough of the native language to be respectful? What is the unemployment rate and how could more jobs be created? How many of these children in the orphanage have one or both parents still alive and unable to afford to feed their children? What would a covering the cost of meals at a school alleviate in the lives of the families attending? When the medical team only visits once a year, who does the everyday medical care?
Serving is building for the Kingdom of God on earth. When we choose to right the wrongs of this world. When we fight for justice to be accomplished. When we choose to love with our entire being. When we choose to invest in relationships. When we choose neighbor over self. When we allow ourselves the space to think through all perspectives, then our serving has maximum Kingdom impact.