By Stefan Hoeschele
Fortunately, I rarely feel envious of others. Emotions I may struggle with are fear and some degree of pride, but envy? No. I’m a pastor who serves as a college teacher and part-time administrator, so my work is full of interesting activities. What’s more, I feel as if I am in an excellent place to apply some of the talents God has given me. But recently I felt somewhat out of place and began feeling a bit envious of people who work in another line. Let me explain.
Where Do I Fit in This Drama?
During the past three years Europe experienced the most intense drama after the peaceful German reunification of 1989. In Germany alone, in 2015, 900,000 refugees arrived. Many of them had lost almost everything. Most of these families mourn the death of loved ones. For months, politicians have discussed how to accommodate them, and some demand the number of people reaching here should be reduced. (Even my children, who closely follow the public debate, wonder how this can be done without violence.) And I keep asking myself, What is my role in this as a Seventh-day Adventist college professor of theology?
In the part of Germany where I live, most people are secular. But there is something encouraging in this challenging situation: Christians are often the most active in caring for these refugees. Young people and families who are stranded in a completely foreign country all need various kinds of support. From teaching free basic language courses to helping with paperwork, from inviting asylum seekers home for dinner to raising intercultural awareness among both the host population and the new arrivals, there are no limits of openings for showing Christ’s love to those who have left behind war-torn countries.
This is where my uneasiness comes in. My wife graduated from a social work program last fall and got employed immediately in a refugee care institution. Since then she has been serving at the humanitarian frontline while I—well, I just continue teaching, complete research projects that approach their deadlines, and fulfill my administrative duties in school. You surely understand that I would like to do something more exciting, something that feels more like mission at the cutting edge.
Of course, I am delighted that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany quickly developed a project called “Together for Refugees.” Every congregation that develops ministries in this realm can get support from ADRA. But what about me? Why can’t I have more time right now to engage in something as historic as this?
Applying Gifts Properly
In the early Christian community people also asked the question of who should fulfill which task. They faced tremendous problems: poor people requiring support, internal conflicts, ill will from society. Soon the apostles realized they couldn’t do it all. Why should not some deal with social work issues (cf. Acts 6)? If others have the gift to do cross-cultural ministry (see Gal. 2:7-10), they ought to utilize it! Not everyone needs to preach or teach. Not everyone is a social worker. And yes, some people are uniquely gifted with establishing relationships with those who would never ask for God on their own.
Here is a remarkable example from a tiny church in the region where I live. For many years a few middle-aged women and some older members have done a very simple but much-needed service to their community by running a youth center in their building. Even though they knew they were not preachers, they wanted to support the needy in their small town. Every weekday afternoon young people come to play, socialize, or receive help with homework. Recently several young men from countries with very few Christians started to attend. One day they asked if they could participate in the worship service. Soon 10 of them committed their lives to Christ.
How did this happen? Just a few ordinary people used their very natural talents to serve in their community. They gave time, offered support for people with everyday problems, and shared their joy of being followers of Christ.
They Can Be Unspectacular
Spiritual gifts, then, do not need to feel ecstatic or supernatural. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whether something is a “natural” skill or a special gift from God. These gifts often have a lot to do both with doing the right things and with doing things right. They enable God to match real needs with those who can serve best, or those who are ready to serve at all. Applying a spiritual gift, therefore, often means realizing that even routine activities done well can have an impact we never expect.
Serving God with our gifts may often appear quite unspectacular. Martin Luther put it this way: the work of a stable maid and a prince are both callings from God. Perhaps you have done something for years, and it no longer feels like something important—like preparing for a committee meeting or teaching classes you have taught 10 times before. It may also be as simple as visiting refugees and eating with them. (I had this opportunity recently; my contribution was taking time to listen, a gift that everyone has in the same measure every day.) After all, God’s gifts are not about me, not even about my ambition to be a great helper. They are about other people, and about God’s way of doing things. n
Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., a former missionary to Algeria and Tanzania, teaches mission studies and systematic theology at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.
Fundamental Belief #17:
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)