The Truth about Service

Two summers ago, I had the privilege of working at a nonprofit retreat center in Louisville, Kentucky. It was during my time at CrossRoads Ministry that I heard the phrase “Sameness versus service,” for the very first time. CrossRoads is a retreat center that focuses on sending young people out into the city of Louisville while pushing them to meet and encounter, for example, individuals living below the poverty line. It encourages general human interaction between those of us who are privileged in so many ways to those in our various cities who struggle in ways that many might never experience. It encourages us to learn the name of every person a retreatant might encounter, and invites retreatants to place themselves on the same level of those whom they serve.

For myself personally, I spent every week long retreat working with refugees from all over the world in ESL classrooms. As much as I was there to help these individuals who were new to the U.S learn about American culture and mainly help them understand a little English, I often found myself asking questions about their life; questions that often led to deeper conversations. For example, having conversations based on why they had fled their country and who the loved ones were that they left behind. In this case, service became sameness. We became two people discussing the deepest areas of our hearts. We became two or more people laughing together although we didn’t know one another well.

Many people today participate in “service” opportunities for the wrong reasons. Especially during the holidays, as a society, we get caught up in participating in service simply to say that we did something good. We do service and then tell everybody what we did the following day. We even do service for something to fill our resumes with. But what if we served others for other reasons?

What if we served as one human being to another, simply for the benefit of human acknowledgment? What if we served with the goal of making of someone else smile? What if we served not for the benefit of ourselves, but to show those that otherwise are marginalized that they are seen; that these moments are about them? What if we served to put ourselves on the same playing field as the individual whom we are serving instead of placing ourselves on a pedestal afterwards?

This holiday season, I have a challenge for each and everyone of us. Let’s serve one another in the right way and in small ways. As you order your coffee at your local Starbucks or other coffee shop, hold a conversation with the barista (as long as it’s not too busy!!!) Never be afraid to ask someone how their day is going so far, and to hold a conversation when you would have typically just ordered your coffee and moved on with your day. I challenge you to hold doors open for strangers and acknowledge someone as they pass you in the aisle of a store or in the mall. Most importantly I challenge you to acknowledge those people you encounter that are unfamiliar with this country and our customs. They are a long way from home this holiday season, and all they want is a smile, to feel welcomed and to experience acknowledgment as a human being just as the rest of us do.