3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
It is great to be writing from my home in Seward this afternoon! It is spring break (or winter break part II in Indiana) and I am home for the week. It is great to be back in Nebraska for a little rest and relaxation before the second half of the semester begins. Valpo’s spring break lasts for two weeks and this is the second week of break now. If you’re wondering where I was for the first week of break, here’s the story:
I participated in Valpo’s Alternative Spring Break, a collection of seven trips across the US aimed at immersing students and faculty into service and leadership opportunities. I had the wonderful blessing to serve as a student leader for the service trip to Detroit, Michigan. This trip was a faith-based servant leadership trip based around the study of urban ministry in Detroit.
Your first reaction to Detroit, like mine, may be a negative one, as the city has faced many challenges related to the fall of the economy and auto industry. The city’s population has fallen from 2,000,000 to 700,000 and continues to decrease each day. 85% of the population is African American due to the white flight that took place over the past couple of decades. Racial tensions are present throughout the city and crime rates are extremely high. There is enough vacant space in the city to fill more than 2,000 football fields, or you could place the entire city of San Francisco on the vacant land within Detroit. It is a massive city with a low population density, high unemployment, limited financial resources, and a dire need for help. It is not your typical vacation destination.
However, Detroit presents a unique opportunity to the church and Christians today, for the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. My team served at a church which functions as both soup kitchen and spiritual home to around 200 homeless individuals six days a week. We helped renovate the Lutheran Hispanic mission in southwest Detroit, where a pastor is working by himself to bring the Good News of Christ to local Hispanic residents. The Lutheran church in the African American area of Detroit had us paint a classroom for their tutoring program before we helped tutor local students one afternoon. The women in our group worked at a halfway house for women leaving prison in the Detroit area. Our last day in the city was spend in a nursing home, visiting with residents in order to bring dignity of life back to them. Throughout the week, we participated in many different organizations that stretched across many demographics, socioeconomic classes, and ethnicities. Through this wide array of experiences, the team was able to see the broad scope of urban ministry in Detroit and its goals for the future.
The amount of need within Detroit’s urban ministry program was not the most shocking part to me though. The most disheartening aspect of the trip was the apathy that members of our host congregation had towards the urban ministry of Detroit. This church was found in the affluent suburbs of Detroit and was a stark contrast from the churches we worked in each day in the city. As each of the team members talked to members at this suburban church, we were shocked to realize how popular the “us-them” mentality was. No one that we talked to seemed too familiar with the programs and organizations we were working with, even though they were fellow LCMS congregations. We had to thoroughly explain the work that we did each day, even though they lived twenty minutes from these churches and posters hung around the church asking for donations. No one seemed to care, or they believed that throwing money at the problems was good enough.
This was extremely frustrating for me to watch, but then I had to take a step back and realize that I have thought the same exact thing at different times in my life. Hadn’t I ignored the need in Seward or Lincoln or Omaha throughout my time in middle and high school? Did I go out and serve those in need right around me? No, I didn’t. I am just as guilty as our hosts in Detroit who failed to see the need right around them. But I gave my offering when I was supposed to, and I went to the soup kitchen in Lincoln once a year with the youth. Wasn’t that good enough? Couldn’t someone else do the work? I’m too busy. But am I? Are you? Are you too busy to become a dedicated servant to an organization that desperately needs help? There are needs in Seward, Lincoln, or Omaha. There are needs in rural Nebraska. Are you aware of them or do you think that they only exist in places like Detroit?
As I work to reshape my vision to see the needs of those immediately around me, I invite each one of you who reads this to reshape your vision and see the needs right around you. Is it an elderly neighbor who needs a helping hand, or could you dedicate an hour a week to a local soup kitchen? Maybe it’s working with underprivileged children in the Teammates program or helping at a local non-profit organization. Remember the passage from Philippians at the beginning of this blog? Let us pray that we look not only to the needs we have, but also to the needs of others, in order to bring God’s kingdom to those around us.