When I was in college, I used to always look forward to the time when all of my friends and I could leave our Christian campus to go do ministry out in the ‘real world.’ We would often go to feed the homeless in Cass Park or go to a nearby non-profit, God’s Helping Hands, to help sort clothes and food. I also had occasional bigger ministry opportunities, such as going to the Bronx in NYC twice to work with different organizations, heading down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to lend a hand to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and spending a week in Detroit working with HCC. These moments of doing ‘real ministry’ really opened my eyes to people in need, and they always made me feel really good about myself.
But then I would return to my everyday life and those positive feelings of making a difference in the lives of others would fade. I fell back into my self-centered routine of my own spiritual journey and rarely thought much of helping others. I longed to be back on these trips doing ‘real work’, important work. I felt like we a Christians made the largest impact when we retreated from regular life to focus solely on ministry. My eyes better saw the needs around me when my brain was geared towards doing ‘real ministry.’ Being on the mission field forced to me to be more intentional about thinking about others, where they were coming from, and being empathetic towards them. And it certainly helped that a lot of the talk on those trips centered around concepts like imagining what it would be like to walk a mile in another’s shoes.
I felt bad for often finding myself wanting to retreat from my actual life so I could do ministry work, instead.
In Luke 10 Jesus shares the story of the Good Samaritan. This story is about a man who fell into the hands of thieves. He was robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Two people came upon this man and passed him by without stopping to help. But when the third man, the Samaritan, saw the man, he sprang into action. He bound his wounds, put the half-dead man on his own donkey, and took him to the closest town, paying to have him taken care of until he could return to check on him.
This story racks my brain with questions about my own life. Do I see the people in need that are right in front of me on a daily basis? Am I so busy looking for my next ‘retreat ministry fix’ that I actually miss all the chances I have to really minister daily? If so, I have to wonder what is it that causes me to not see the windows of opportunity that the Lord is constantly placing in front of me.
I think when you are on a mission trip or going somewhere to do ministry, it’s easier because it doesn’t affect your daily life. In these experiences, we can spend our time serving others and allowing our lives to be used in whatever way is needed because we know it’s not our daily reality – we will be coming back to a life that can be centered totally around ourselves once that time comes to an end. But what the Samaritan does, which is much more challenging, is he allows for his daily life to be spent serving this man in need. He was not concerned with what it would cost him or even if he would then get robbed as well. He simply saw this man’s situation and felt empathy and concern for him. But instead of just shaking that off and passing by like the others did, he picked him up, brushed him off, and brought him to town for care.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way just one day before he was shot and killed: “And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Everyday we are all faced with that same question.
When I can honestly see the needs of my neighbors and start caring about them then I will be living into doing real ministry daily and not just on retreat.
-Riley Chowning, Assistant Director