What does it mean to serve?

Each summer, several short-term groups come to work at our foster home. This is the first time in my life to be on the side of the “locals” when hosting short-term groups, and I’m learning a lot of new things. Right now, I’m serving as the bridge between the foreign visitors and the Chinese foster home staff, and it is an interesting experience. I can’t say I’m doing it well. One thing I’ve noticed is that some of the groups come with a very specific idea of what it means to be a blessing. They desperately want to be a blessing, and though they may say they want to help us however they can, they really already have plans on how to accomplish it. They have detailed goals, expectations, and desires, and come knowing exactly what they want to get out of the trip. When their experience doesn’t match up with those goals/expectations/desires, they are disappointed.

Now, I’m not being critical/judgemental — it wasn’t long ago when I was going on short-term trips myself. I’d save up all year to go on the trip (or ask others to help support me); use up all of my vacation time — and I wanted something significant! I wanted something life-changing! So I totally understand the feelings… however, from this side of the fence, I see to a greater degree the importance of people going with a heart of service. This means laying aside any of our own expectations. It means being willing to do what is asked of you, even if it doesn’t seem glamorous, meaningful, interesting, or productive.

One of the long-term foreigners here made a comment that went something like this, “When people come for 2 weeks or so, they need to come with the attitude that they will be working alongside the local and long-term people, doing what the local and long-term people deem important.” It isn’t that we can’t learn from new visitors, but it works best when people truly have a heart of service. It isn’t that we don’t want visitors to use their skills or have a good all-around experience, but we do hope that their time with us is mutually a blessing and not just a glorified vacation where we take them around to see and do a lot.

That means a doctor may be sweeping paths.

That means a teacher may be changing diapers.

That means a lawyer may be cleaning window screens.

That means a stay-at-home mom may be folding laundry.

That means a person with a heart for orphans may spend time helping an older student who isn’t an orphan practice English.

A short-term trip blesses the visitor more than it blesses the community they go to serve. I think this should be written in a bold font across the front of any short-term team’s preparation manual. This isn’t necessarily the mentality of many visitors — they are coming to DO something, to BE something, to ACCOMPLISH something. And, when that doesn’t happen according to their plans, they can leave feeling frustrated and like they’ve wasted their time. One recent visitor said he felt like he was doing jobs that were simply contrived; jobs that could have been done without him and jobs that would be done once he went home. That’s completely true, but does it matter? The same could be said for what we do here; I mean, after all, the foster home was doing just fine before we came. What he failed to see is that he was a blessing to the person he worked alongside, and perhaps he failed to recognize that the experience would be used to teach him a deeper lesson — something much bigger than the activity or what he accomplished.

Sometimes when we try to measure our significance, we leave out some of the most important parts of the equation. Parts that are invisible and remain hidden from our perception, but parts that count nonetheless. So if you are going on a short-term trip this summer — make a list of your expectations and desires. Then burn the list. Or tear it up into little pieces. Do whatever you need to do get rid of those expectations. Ask Him to help you set aside your own agenda so that you can truly be his hands and feet.

3 thoughts on “What does it mean to serve?

  1. It seems that most disappointments in life stem from unmet expectations. I find myself much happier when I go with an open heart and mind into any situation. This serves me especially well when I am going into the homes of others to perform home health services.


  2. I had a young girl want to come and help me…..my last statement to her was this…..Please ask yourself this question….”Do you want to go half way around the world to babysit?” I haven’t seen her yet!!! This question weeds out quite a few:) love, Pam


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