Occasionally as part of my work in campus ministry, I have the opportunity to take a small group of students on a service learning trip. (AKA mission trip). We travel about an hour and a half south to Benton Harbor, Michigan. We work with the people of First Presbyterian Church, Benton Harbor and their mission partners. (You can learn something about the situation of Benton Harbor, here. )
On our first trip we helped grub out shrubs and small trees from along a fence line at a future community garden. Our students worked hard! You can see how happy they were!
On our second trip we helped paint a house. We also visited the community garden and saw it was full of vegetables.
On our third trip we helped get the beds ready for planting at the community garden. We had the chance to meet up with folks we met on our first trip and find out what’s been happening at the garden. We got to meet some new people and work along side them.
We keep going back to the same place because I want our students to learn a couple of important things. We live in a fast paced world where we expect quick and dramatic results. But real life just doesn’t work that way. Most things take time- often much more time than we plan on. Most projects have obstacles and delays and setbacks. The community garden has been waiting at least a year for the city to fix the water line. Imagine gardening without a ready source of water. I want our students to see what prayer and patience and persistence can accomplish.
We have only spent two days working at that garden and yet each time we come, we are enthusiastically welcomed and equally enthusiastically thanked for our help. We haven’t really done that much. But we do what we are able in the time we are there. It takes a lot of people each doing their bit and each coming back that makes this garden a reality.It takes a community to create a community garden.
Did you even wonder why Jesus didn’t do larger, more dramatic things? Wouldn’t a dramatic miracle have been more effective in spreading his message?
I know Jesus attracted crowds. But think about how he interacted with them. He seems to have healed people one at a time rather than performing a mass healing. When he fed the five thousand they passed the food around person to person rather than food instantly appearing in front of them. Jesus walked and taught mostly in tiny rural towns. He spent much of his time with a relatively small group of people. After his resurrection he was mistaken for a gardener and he cooked breakfast on the beach. He did small acts which invited those with eyes to see and ears to hear to join in.
Most of us won’t do big, noteworthy, astounding things for God. Most of us will do small things over and over again. The small, persistent work that people do, all over the world, unheralded by others is the way of Jesus. Think of the people you know who make a difference. The ones who show up and tutor every week. The ones who volunteer at the food pantry. The ones who regularly visit people in hospital and nursing home. The ones who drive people to medical appointments. The people who make and deliver meals. Who mow the neighbor’s yard. Who shovel snow. There are a thousand tiny things that we do every day. Things that go mostly unnoticed and unrecognized except by a very few people. So why bother? Why do we do it? Do these tiny acts truly change the world?
Some people think they do. Others don’t. How can we know?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I am not called to change the world. That is God’s task. My calling is to be faithful where I am and in the ways that I am able. That is what Jesus asks us to do. And that is what we can do.