Service is a hard word to define. When most people think of service, they think of building houses, schools, or hospitals. They think of volunteering at a clinic or acting as a missionary. This is exactly what would come to my mind. However, my view on service was changed earlier this year.
Right around my spring break, I went down to Argentina with my parents to go on a service trip with Pepperdine’s Buenos Aires program. There were a few alumni of the Buenos Aires program who also flew out to go on the trip and the current BA students started asking them questions about what we were going to be doing. After struggling to describe the ‘service’ that we would do, one of the alumni said, “It will challenge your entire view of service. We will not be building houses or anything like that, but we will be serving. Because service is more than a single action. It is a way of life.”
Right when she said that, I began to think about all of my different service trips. By that point, I had been to Kenya four times to work with Made In The Streets (MITS), and Argentina once to work with a village called El Negrito (the village we were going to at the time). I started to think, What did I actually do at these places?
You see, the first time I went to MITS, I was eleven years old. There wasn’t much that I could do. I couldn’t help teach classes, because the kids knew more than I did. I couldn’t help with cooking, because no one trusted me around knives. So, I was just… there. I would play soccer with the kids and mess around with the toddlers, but that was about it. Then, when I got older, my family started going with the Pepperdine program and, with that, Pepperdine students. They were taking upper division science classes, so most of the activities were centered around science, which I knew nothing about (a reason I am a creative writing major). So, I couldn’t do much with the program and I ended up playing soccer and messing around with the toddlers.
Then, I thought about going to El Negrito. What did I do the last time I went? I played soccer and… messed around with the little kids (okay, I did more than that on all my trips but that was the majority of my time). I was not a very good spanish speaker, so I couldn’t hear people’s stories or tell mine to a population that only spoke Spanish.
So, what is service as a discipline?
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun describes service as “helping, caring, and sharing [the] love of God in the world”. However, many of the practices that she lays out as examples of service involve annual and big actions. I believe that service is simpler than that. It is the way in which we live, and while those great big actions are great and important, habitual service is so much more powerful.
So, in my mind, this discipline is one of the hardest to pin down. It challenges us to see the world and the people around us differently. We are meant to be servants. It is a position that Jesus took as he took the form of man. He placed himself to a position in which he loved people beyond what they deserved. He treated everyone with an immense respect.
To me, that is what service is. It is viewing everyone as someone who deserves both respect and everything that we can give them. It is humbling yourself and giving up what you have to others. One of the most valuable things in your life is your time, so to respect someone so much that you are willing to give up your time to them is the most humbling thing. That is why big service projects are so great; it is the action of acknowledging the importance of someone who believes themselves to be unworthy.
Everyone believes themselves unworthy in some way. So, service is the act of acknowledging the importance of someone when they feel forgotten or beneath another. Service is not the act of lowering yourself to someone else's level. It is the action of raising someone up to feel worthy of being a child of God.
Again, it is hard to pin down exactly what to do, but that is because service is such a broad subject and varies with every situation you find yourself in. Sometimes service is a smile at someone who is walking with their head down. Sometimes it is asking to pray for someone, because you feel drawn to do so. Sometimes it is inviting someone to any event that may interest them. There are so many ways in which you can serve, but the most important thing is to go out of your way to make them feel loved and, more importantly, deserving of that love.
The UCC Spiritual Practices blog is here for you to grow and develop in your faith and daily time with God. The majority of the articles are written by UCC's own Garrett Le and Hanson Von Flue, with the guidance of Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.