For the last few years, we’ve been attempting to serve some of the residents of a government assisted housing development that we affectionately call “the Neighborhood.” We first started spending time with the residents because we were invited by our friend Cathy.
After speaking with Cathy briefly, it became obvious that there were several great needs in this neighborhood: spiritual (certainly), physical, emotional, nutritional, financial, etc. Our family could not meet all of those needs, so we didn’t even try. Instead, we simply served in way that we could.
But, we also attempted to serve in ways that the people in the neighborhood wanted. For example, because of the nutritional need (this is a HUGE need among people who live below the poverty line), we began to take small bags of fruits and vegetables to the people that we met. We didn’t spend alot of money on each bag… probably only about $10 or so.
Eventually, we found out that some people like watermelon while others like cantaloupe. Some liked potatoes while others preferred squash. Some like beans and some liked corn. Some were happy with anything that we brought them. They were all very grateful.
But, it wasn’t that they were necessarily grateful for the produce. Instead, much more, they were appreciative that we spent time with them, got to know them, and brought them things that they wanted and needed.
We were not the only people who would bring food to the residents of the Neighborhood. But, it seems that we were the only ones who spent the time necessary to build a relationship with them. This meant we had to spend enough time with them that they began to trust us (which wasn’t always easy).
One morning while we were visiting with one of the elderly ladies, another group was going door to door giving the residents food. They gave this lady some bread, doughnuts, and cakes. She thanked them and put them on her table, while the group left and made their way to the next house.
Our friend started laughing. I asked her why she was laughing. She said, “They bring me cakes and pies and doughnuts occasionally. Never ask my name or anything. So, they don’t know that I’m diabetic and can’t eat any of it.” She offered the sweets to us, but ended up throwing most of it away.
Now, the group that brought the cakes and doughnuts and bread meant well. They wanted to serve this lady, but they didn’t know how to serve her. One size does not fit all when it comes to serving people.
Instead, we must spend time with people so that we can know what they want and what they need. Guess what? We made some mistakes early one. We brought some people food that they did not eat. But, we learned, because we kept coming back.
And, most importantly, we always saw the people as more important than our acts of service. We would gladly and quickly change how we were serving someone as we got to know them.
All of our service was for an ultimate purpose, of course. Bringing fruits and vegetables might help them a little. Giving them a ride to the doctor’s office or picking them up at the emergency room may be beneficial.
But, our ultimate goal was to demonstrate and proclaim the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ. He love is personal, so our service should be personal as well.