Roughly a year ago, I had the opportunity to go with my brother and the youth group he pastors to serve at the Bowery Mission in New York City. We spent the week helping the residents there prepare and serve meals, clean the mission, organize donations and various other tasks with which they needed help. Make no mistake, running such a place takes tremendous patience, hard work and dedication. I was privledged to serve these people and I can firmly say it was one of the best weeks of my life.
I struggled with feelings of inadequecy on the trip there. What would they think of (comparitively) sheltered, Christian kids who knew little of "real life" hardships? Would we be a nusicance? An inconvenience? All my worrying, turns out, was needless. (It was pride, really, but more about that in another post, sometime ;). I have never met such thankful people in my life. The staff was incredibly grateful for anything and everything we did and the residents acted like we were doing them the biggest favor in the world. In truth, it was they who blessed us. They always had a warm smile for us and words of encouragement. Scripture was always on their lips and they had a genuine love for Christ. These men had been through truly hard times and were passionate about Jesus and the way He had resuced them. Certainly, it wasn't all hearts and flowers once they recieved Christ. People are still people. There are still day to day struggles that come from living in a sin-cursed world. However, these men now had real Hope and their words and worship refelected that.
That week Christ broke my heart. As we served meals to the homeless that came thorugh the line the faces cut me to my soul. Some wouldn't meet our eyes and you could tell they were very embarrased. Some gruffly took waht they were given and you could tell that their callous and sometimes confrontational spirits were well-honed habits that covered up their hurting souls. Still others smiled into our eyes and had a cheery "good morning" or "how are YOU?". (I normally can't smile until at least 8:30 am =)
I had a fabulous time in the city itself that week. Central Park, Battery Park, Times Square, (Starbucks on every corner)...shopping, beautiful works of architecture, museums I could spend years in...(did I mention Starbucks?)...We attended the Brooklyn Tabernacle on Sunday Morning. We saw the place where the Twin Towers once stood. (An experience I will never forget). I will be going back in the future...mark my words...
Yet it was the hope and love I saw that week that will always live with me. I saw the Love of Christ being practically displayed to hurting and lost people. Through the hard, messy, day to day stuff they lived out His command to love others. I was privledged to be a part of that.
As I said before, I am a sheltered, homeschooled teenager. This expreience could be chalked up to the mission trip "high" of a kid who has seldom been anywhere outside of Knoxville. True, there is a thrill when you work with other believers toward a common, Christ-honoring goal.However i saw firsthand that life is hard, tragic and completely unfair. Yet there is a Hope found only in the love of our Creator. He has given us an incomparable gift and each and every one of us is meant to spread that gift of love through our own unique abilities. That week I experienced not a "high" that quickly subsided when I came home to "real life", but the peaceful hope of knowing that joy exists in stepping outside myself and loving others. No matter what else i accomplish in this world, I want to be used by my Savior to spread His love. Pure and simple.THAT, my friend is real life. I can do no less.