"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James 1:27 (KJV, Sam's favorite version)
The academic in me knows yesterday could have done with a fair bit more studying.
But I don't always listen to the academic.
After spending several hours in belated birthday celebration (which included romping around town in a blindfold, treasure hunting, convenience store shopping, and a water gun fight), I got a couple good hours of studying done. And then it was off to the church.
Last week a friend of mine had asked if I would help with a dinner being held to honor a number of nursing home residents and elderly church members. She was hard pressed for volunteers and was sounding rather desperate. Deciding to push midterms to the back of my mind, I agreed. And so I showed up at the fellowship hall at 5, ready to cook or help serve food. After hearing the first 30 seconds of waiter instructions, though, I was asked what I was doing in the kitchen. Before I could reply, I was ushered out of the group of waiters and waitresses, and I was given the instruction to be one of the several students to mingle.
"Wait, so you just want me to sit and talk to people?"
"Yep. Enjoy the food while you're at it."
No one wanted to volunteer for this? I was shocked at my good fortune. This wasn't "helping with a dinner." This was free food and great conversation!
I ended up sitting across from a couple who had been married for 52 years, most of those years being spent overseas working as medical missionaries. Naturally, this made me doubly excited. We spent the evening talking about missions and what it means to truly be a missionary. They told me stories of crazy medical miracles and experiences with cultural adjustments. They started naming off all the countries they'd lived in: I lost count around 7.
At one point I asked the wife, Effie, if she had always planned on being a missionary. She said that for the majority of her life, she had known she'd live abroad. "But my problem was," Effie said in her thin voice, leaning in as if to share a secret, "that I couldn't find any men who wanted to leave the country. All the boys in college wanted to settle down in the states, and whenever they'd try to pursue me, I just had to tell them no."
So this is me in 55 years, I thought to myself.
"Until this guy came along," she continued, putting her hand on her husband's shoulder. A beautiful smile spread across her face.
I had told them my history with missions and my hopes for continuing such work in the future. They queried me on my majors and asked about my plans for the future. At one point I turned to the Sam, the husband, and asked him what he considered the most important advice he could give to an aspiring missionary. He replied almost immediately. "Learn how to be nice." I smiled at this and nodded for him to continue.
"You don't have to always be right; that won't get you far. But if you can be nice and give up always being right, then you really form relationships with the people. And really, that's what matters."
I told him that seemed like some very sound advice. We both ate a few more bites in silence before Sam added to his last statement by quoting from James 1:27. "This is true religion, true faith," he declared. "Looking after those who need help. If you see that someone is hungry, you feed them. If you see someone who's thirsty, you give them something to drink. If they have nowhere to stay, you open up your home to them. Really seeing the needs of others and responding to them; stepping out of your comfort zone to make others more comfortable. That's what it's all about."
"That's right," I replied, a contemplative smile undoubtedly playing across my lips.
At some point the dinner ended, and before we knew it, we were the last ones there. It was time to leave. As I hugged Effie, she told me she hoped she could see me again in 5 years to see where God had brought me in life. I agreed with that hope. After saying goodbye to the two of them, I stopped in the kitchen to say goodbye to the other volunteers. "Hey, thanks for inviting me," I told them. "I would have been fine working in here, but I'm really glad you needed me out there."
"Well, we needed someone like you out there," one of them said. "We had plenty of cooks and waiters come, but we really needed some people who could connect with the guests."
As I headed back to the dorm to continue studying, I considered again the person God has made me to be, the passions and gifts He's given me. And I re-remembered how much I love serving within my gifts, and how much of a blessing it always is to me as well. I think Sam nailed it: relationship is what this whole concept of service is all about. Being nice. Loving people.
And I think Effie was on to something, too: God's got some beautiful plans for my future of loving people. Like her, I'm excited to see me in 5 years and discover what God has done with and through my life. I've got a good feeling about it.