It’s often said that mission trips and service projects are eye-opening experiences, especially when serving those less fortunate than yourself. When asking a participant why it was so eye-opening, the typical response is, “I realized how fortunate I am. I have so much and they have so little.” This isn’t a bad realization to experience, but this summer while serving with our youth group I had a new realization that I had never experienced before. It happened through meeting a man named Billy.
On this particular summer day our youth group partnered with a non-profit organization in downtown Atlanta called Safe House Outreach (SHO). The project that day was simple. We were to do just a few things. One, make a simple lunch for those in need of a meal. Two, go into downtown Atlanta and invite those on the streets back to SHO for the meal. Three, serve them and eat with them.
Typically, when serving those less fortunate than myself my mindset is, “They are going to be so blessed by what we do for them and what we have to offer them.” In thinking this way I am working on a certain assumption. That assumption is, “The homeless of the inner city have nothing to offer me, yet I have everything to offer them.” On that afternoon I realized I was completely wrong.
Billy, or “Shoe Shine” as his friends call him, is a regular at Safe House and is very appreciative of the ministry and work of Safe House. But as he sat down to eat lunch with some of our students, I saw something incredible happen. I saw a group of students crowding around Billy with huge smiles on their faces, laughing and hanging on his every word. I was so perplexed by this because the typical interaction with a homeless person is not filled with ease in the way this interaction was. It was so intriguing that I had to go over and check it out. When I did, immediately I saw what was drawing these students to Billy. Billy was filled with an immeasurable amount of joy. As I pulled up a chair and joined the conversation it was evident that Billy’s joy was over flowing and it was bringing joy into the hearts of all who were around him. It was in this simple moment that I realized my assumption of blessing the homeless was turned on its head. Myself along with this group of students were blessed by Billy way more than he was blessed by us.
In that moment God showed me three things:
1. Those who are homeless are made in the image of God just like I am, and this alone gives them significant value.
2. The joy that Billy possessed came from Christ in his life, something to which all believers have access.
3. And the most profound thing that the Lord showed me, because of 1 and 2, Billy has a lot to offer me, maybe even more than I have to offer him.
So, when we serve and give to those in need……
May we be open to the work of God in the unexpected places.
May we see that the “least of these” (Matt 25) have something to offer us.
May we be open to receiving what they have to give.