Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sharing Life With Our Neighbors and Friends

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at Enterprise United Methodist Church for their Missions Conference. Here is an excerpt from the sermon I preached on John 15:9-17. The message shares about being friends with those we serve with, a topic that can be challenging when we are so used to going on mission trips thinking we come to save or "do for" others. Over the past few years, I have learned that engaging in missions isn't about what we accomplish, but the relationships that we form. It's realizing that those we come to "serve" have as much to give as we do, and learning to receive humbly and lovingly. 
     I moved to Alabama almost one year ago today. Having grown up in Indiana and attended college in Michigan, I had never experienced living in the rural South. For us outsiders, the South is known for being the land where country music, endearing accents, and sweet tea abound. But over the past year, I have found that Alabama is much more than this: it is a place of hospitality, community, and deep friendships. Today I’m going to tell you a story about a lady I met last summer, and how we became friends.

     When I began working with Alabama Rural Ministry, I went one day with our construction coordinator to visit Ms. Wood at her home outside of Auburn. That day we would be looking at some urgent repair needs in her home. We pulled up to her house, a small, one-story building with a decent sized yard. Ms. Wood and her son were waiting for us. They showed us into the small, cramped living room, kept warm with gas heaters. From the moment she opened the door, I knew Ms. Wood was one of those kind ladies that can bring a smile to anyone’s face when they’re having a bad day. We sat done and began to chat. With Ms. Wood, the connection was immediate and I felt that we had known each other for months.

     Later we walked into Ms. Wood’s bedroom to take some measurements, and I remember being shocked to see the damage in her floor. Termites had eaten away the wood and much of the walls. Ms. Wood could not even stay in her own bedroom at night – she was sleeping on the sofa. I was told that soon a group would be coming to put in new boards and laminate floor. There was certainly a lot of progress to be made. That day my heart went out to this kind woman. But I was struck by her positive attitude in her situation. 

     After a few minutes of conversation, it was time to go. Before we left, I remember that Ms. Wood stood up to pray with us. She shared with us a concern that her son was looking for work, and asked that we would pray for the family. I was touched by her genuine care and her openness in sharing her personal life with us. I asked her to pray for me as well. Ms. Wood said to me, “Oh Becky, I will. God is so faithful.” In talking with Ms. Wood, we had both allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in sharing life with each other. A friendship formed between us that was rooted in God's love.

 During my message, I spoke about 4 main principles of service:
1. Humility
2. Love
3. Vulnerability 
4. Community

Here are some key points:
      The example of servant-hood is crucial to the Christian lifestyle. Yet sometimes we view service as one-sided. When we go on mission trips, do we go thinking about the relationships we will build or the tasks we will accomplish? Do we only consider what we will give to others or realize that we may also receive? I remember distinctly the first mission trip I ever went on. A group from my college campus ministry went to Tijuana, Mexico, where we worked with a family and his church doing tasks ranging from feeding the homeless, to building a foundation to a house, to performing a Bible skit on the street. After the trip I remember feeling proud at the small tasks my team had completed. We had mixed cement. We had fed hungry people. We had made a difference! But it left me wondering, what did the church and Mexican family think when we left? Were they as excited as I was at the results? Did they expect us to keep in touch for years to come? I'm not so sure. 

      At times when we serve with good intentions, we can abuse the power it gives us to control others. Service then becomes exploitation and commercialization – for every thing we do, there is a second motive. This can take many forms: wanderlust, curiosity, pity, or even a genuine desire to help people. These motives are not necessarily bad, but can have negative effects on those we come to serve. Bob Lupton puts it this way: “I wonder if the reality of humanness will always make servant hood into lordship. It may be that there is no way to define service in order to keep from making it a system of control.” Thinking about this quote, I wonder…does service always have to perpetuate the sense that those coming into a community are superior to those who are already there? I would argue that it doesn’t. 

 To read the entire sermon, please go to  Thanks for reading!