March 4th 2010
I think sometimes we get really caught up in how great we think we are. I’m not necessarily referring to the overt pride that we can have (though that also does apply here), but to the subconscious way it’s easy for those of us from wealthy, educated and loving communities to feel like we have something to offer those “less fortunate” than us. We want to do something about the suffering we read about, and we try to accomplish short-term goals that we’ve created from our own will. But sometimes—actually, almost all of the time—all God asks us to do is show up.
I came here to Camden with a group of nearly 20 Pepperdine students on spring break, and I must admit, we were not all initially in the best state of mind about this trip. Service is one thing, but service andfreezing cold weather? That’s another animal. Warm weather, beach and relaxation are what most college students look for on their spring break, and I think it’s fair to say that after months of writing papers, studying and taking exams, it’s perfectly justified.
One girl from our team, Ashley, said she and her roommates went shopping before they left for their respective trips and while they tried on new bikinis, Ashley scoured the stores for a few pairs of warm wool socks. It’s a bit of a silly example, but it really sheds light on trading one type of week for another—swimsuits, sunglasses, and rest for boots, coats, and some serious hard work. Regardless of our small degree of hesitation, on February 27 we all packed our bags, hopped on a plane, and showed up.
From the moment we started our journey from LA to Philadelphia, the Lord began to prepare us with patience. Elena sat next to two small, crying children; Maddie and Bri endured loud snores from the man in the aisle seat next to them; Heather, Dave and I spent over an hour searching for parking in downtown Philly before finally deciding to divide and conquer, paying almost $20 for one spot, and parking blocks away for another. But despite the obstacles, each hour and each patience-trying event seemed to bring us more united as a team and prepare us more for the week of work ahead.
In our week here working with UrbanPromise, we have torn up old tile, ripped out a ceiling, facilitated classes, shoveled truckloads of snow, picked up trash on the side of the road, played games at after-school programs, and helped kids with their homework. That’s a lot of stuff—a lot more than any of our vacationing friends have done this week—and it would be easy to give ourselves a pat on the back, feel some sense of accomplishment, and act like we offered something special to this community. But if that’s our attitude, then our work is in vain and worth nothing.
I’ve been beautifully reminded this week of what it means to truly relate, and to show love to someone when they’re seemingly unlovable—the kind of love that our Savior shows us. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-9). At the end of the day, we have nothing to bring to this broken community but our broken selves. We are all, as the pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia said on Sunday morning, “Raggedy.” Every single one of us. We are all “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17), but we are also all redeemed, understood and loved by the only One who knows exactly who we are underneath all of our appearances. I am just one human relating to another, serving another, loving another. Sure, my brokenness is certainly different than someone else’s—especially a kid from Camden—but it doesn’t change the fact that we share the commonality of the human experience. I cannot offer anything except the willingness to serve this community through making myself available to be used.
Pepperdine University Workgroup