September 1, 2016

The risk of community service

Written by  Twila Fisher

I was in a meeting with the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce’s “R3,” a group of civic-minded businessmen and women in Pottstown, Pa.

I had just told them about my upbringing — that my parents had been Amish, that I was raised in a conservative Mennonite community as the sixth of nine children. I shared about the innate understanding one carries when born into a tight-knit community: that there will always be companionship, and support, and resources; subsequently one need not face anything alone in life, nor fear want.

I told them how we lived simply and honestly, worked hard, and helped each other, and how it taught us some of the most important lessons we would ever learn.

The point of my story that morning went beyond self-disclosure. It was a call to live vulnerably in a society suffering from the post-traumatic stress of failed relationships, betrayal, and uncertainty — a call to build community by making space for those around us to come together and heal.

This call is perhaps the most impactful when it is the hardest. It changes lives because it believes in the unseen, and is given in response to God’s kindness and mercy in our own lives. It is the willingness to love without knowing if others will love you in return, or be there tomorrow, or take care of you, which is decidedly less safe than the Amish community (at least there, you know they have your back).

There is, however, a great challenge to answering this call: that of serving others without judging. The very act of helping another, one could argue, presupposes an inequality wherein one person has something to give that another does not: the receiver is at the mercy of the giver. It’s easier to be on the giving end, right?

Furthermore, while it is “more blessed to give than to receive,” are our intentions pure? Certainly we would say we mean for them to be. Yet if we are honest, the act of serving another strokes our ego. It makes us feel good about ourselves. We sleep a little better at night because we’ve checked off the “good deed” box.

All of those things, while valid and true, are also not unlike the religiosity of the Pharisees so scorned by Jesus. Yes. You see, we rarely realize that we are judging or acting self-righteously — which is why Jesus unabashedly declared that we must pluck the timber out of our own eye before doing it for another.

How then, must we serve? By living honestly and vulnerably. So it’s true that sometimes our service is also self-serving. But serving others is also all over the Bible as a mandate — something Christ-followers DO:

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35a).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34b).

When we serve, we can remember this biblical truth: “Give and it shall be given to you ….” While we know that receiving must not be our motive, we do know we can trust this word. We can trust that we will be taken care of as we pour out our lives in service for those around us; trust that when we have someone’s back, someone else will have ours. Because this is how community is built, and grows, and multiplies.

So we give vulnerably, understanding the risk and doing it anyway.

Yes, there are times when it doesn’t work out — times when we are taken advantage of and scorned. So we also give vulnerably, understanding the risk and doing it anyway.

I think God cares a lot more about what happens in everyday life with everyday people, than how we behave within the four walls of a church on Sundays. May we wake up every morning with open hearts that look for ways to serve those around us, and open eyes that say, “I see you, and you matter.” Just like Jesus does.

Twila Fisher grew up in Elverson, Pa. She served with EMM in Mexico from 1992–1994. This year she became a manager of community and economic development in Pottstown, employed by The Hill School. Twila lives in the Hobart’s Run neighborhood of Pottstown, where she works to support safety, cleanliness, and community.

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