Our mission at Neighborlink is: practical, neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God's love. We often communicate and believe that it's about Christians or well intending volunteers who are going to be the expressions of God's love to those who are poor or vulnerable that need help. It's often one-sided and often true, but we almost never realize that "neighbor-to-neighbor" goes both ways until we're humbled by how those we're serving show us God's love just as much as we may show it to them.
Most Christian churches encourage their congregants to serve or volunteer to help those in need as a tool for evangelism or a way to give back to God out of abundance for what He's given to you. In either situation, service to others feels like an obligation or a transaction. We serve only as a way to introduce our doctrine on a poor person and/or we make a deposit of what God's given us back into the bank from which it came. Both situations are transactional and measured against what we set out to accomplish. More simply, they set the volunteers up to be purely in the mindset of accomplishing a task rather than a posture of learning and relationship building.
We love Jesus at NeighborLink and our greatest hope is that we'll meet homeowners who need the love and hope that comes only from a relationship with Jesus that's being portrayed by or communicated via a volunteer. We also desperately need mission-minded volunteers who are ready to give from whom all blessings flow. Without that, we wouldn't come close to doing the projects we do.
What I hope to introduce in this post is that we believe that service to others is far more about the work that God is wanting to do inside of us. The only way we've learned to do this is to step back, enter into prayer and consideration of what the Spirit is wanting to teach us in this situation, engaging in conversation with the homeowner about what their expectations are, and then proceeding when we have a better understanding. Being a disciple of Jesus is about dying to self, dropping what's most important to you at the time, and following Jesus into the margins to "be" with Him and to learn from Him via the experiences you have from those you interact with. For many of our most engaged volunteers, their understanding of what service is has radically changed over the years because of them quickly understanding that service is as much, if not more, about their own personal transformation towards understanding the Kingdom of God than it was about them "doing" the Kingdom of God.
NeighborLink volunteers have a tendency to go full steam ahead at trying to solve as many projects as possible because they seem simple on the surface, but are quickly humble by the complications of the projects or the lessons God actually has for them once they get involved. Each project includes people with agendas and life stories, which means that they're complicated before they ever start. People are not projects and change is not transactional. To want to change a broken situation is a natural response and projects are often full of practical things to fix. However, a deeper analyzation of the roots of the problem, the current parameters that keep the problem the problem, and our own reflections on what we believe the solution is versus the person we're helping is needed. Often times a realization that WE may be the problem that gets in the way of the solution is necessary.
A recent project and story illustrates this point. A large group of students from Clemson University joined our friends at NeighborLink Indianapolis to helping a wheelchair bound veteran get pretty much an entire home remodel, including an entire new bathroom that he can actually use rather than using the bathroom in plastic pots. The team spent the better part of a week tearing apart the house and putting it back together. At the end of day two, the team gathered around Thomas and asked if they could pray for him, which Thomas gladly excepted and prayers were prayed. It was after the team prayed for Thomas that Thomas began to pray over the team thanking God that they helped him. Thomas prayed a prayer of blessing over the team members.
It was a perfect illustration of "neighbor-to-neighbor" truly meaning that each of us have value and can be used by God to bless others. It's was an equitable exchange that humbled and blessed each member. Thomas who has to be vulnerable to receive help and a team with power and ability to be humbled to receive something in return for their effort when their intent was to only give.