Not Unless I Have To
One of my favorite adult-life maxims comes from the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus answers the expert in the law and says, “Go and do likewise.” I know he didn’t (and doesn’t) mean, “Go and become a paramedic,” or, “Go and become an inn keeper so that you can lodge infirmed patients.” He simply meant for me to go and do what must be done for folks whose needs I can meet.
To be fair, I do okay. I take out the neighbor’s trash because his disfigurement requires 20 minutes just to get to the alley. I donate to people. And at every chance given to communicate theology on the importance of work in the here and now Kingdom of God, I give it with conviction.
In other words, I get Go and do likewise. Unfortunately, it's a short list and I’m afraid that most of my going and doing is nice-guy personality - not a result of what Jesus said.
This May, two colleagues and I took 13 college students to Peru. We planned for months, ironing out every possible detail for a 21-day excursion, and what did we want the students to learn? How to be servants.
For more than a week, we lived with a family who runs a kindergarten and after-school program in the poor mountain city of Huancayo. The family attends daily to the needs of 50 children, ages 3-17, and we helped make repairs on the school, create and give lessons, and we played with the kids. Of course, this work fit well with the college students. They’ve volunteered at day camps and soup kitchens for years. Their resumes reflect hours of selfless acts and it would be shocking for a future employer to not see an entire page dedicated to volunteer experience.
Future employer: “So, tell me about college.”
Student: “Well, basically, I studied and I gave back to the community.”
Even as I write this, I’m conflicted between sarcasm, conviction and a plea for help. Part of me wants to roll my eyes at the thought of telling people about what we did in Peru, like I roll them at the thought of keeping up with the latest fashions. Another feels self-righteous as a card-carrying member of the international mission volunteer movement (though I’m aware that my trip wasn’t as valuable as one to Africa, so the unspoken opinion goes). And there is this other, perhaps more honest, part that wants to know that I’m responding specifically to Jesus and not generically to church pop culture or my personality.
Here’s what I do know. After three weeks of talking incessantly about service being more than volunteerism; about the 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 reminder that we’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation (i.e. fixing what’s broken); and about how Colossians 1:15-20 puts Jesus at the center of everything reconciled that needs to be reconciled (including the victim in the ditch), I think our group advanced a little.
Consider these two reflections from the return flight:
The thing that most challenged me on this trip was the redefinition of service. Not only does service require knowing the people you serve, your whole life is supposed to be service – every aspect of it. If I could be a little like the example Tino and his family set, opening up their home and serving us, it would be awesome. – Emily
I’m going home with a new perspective on how to care for people. What it all boils down to as a Christian is suffering like Christ did for us, for the sake of others. I found out that I’m too comfortable with my life. – Dani
This part about suffering...it convicts me, you know? Well, we’re going back. Not all of us, but a new crew of students. So I have a year to contemplate relinquishing my role as Global Tourist and to pick up this cross called Go and do likewise. I have a year to stand in the lawyer’s shoes and hear this simple story for myself, being looked at in the eye with compassion by the Christ whose life defined service and makes possible the ministry of reconciliation.
And in this year, perhaps I can find a way to replace some of my cynicism with confirmation that I can actually suffer for the sake of others, not just in Peru but everyday in everyday ways. Because right now I’m just being an average nice guy, which costs me very little.
The mules pictured above carried our heavy gear, skillfully but unwillingly, through the Andes mountains on a week-long trek. Image by Sam Van Eman.