As the French woman gently massaged her rough hands, Hamia* felt tears well up in her eyes. She was so tired and worried. After fleeing her abusive husband in North Africa, she now waited anxiously in this small village in France. Would her petition for asylum be granted? Would she ever see her children again? She had felt her heart shatter when she had to leave them behind.
But for these few minutes, she could release her worries and soak in both the
tenderness from her new acquaintance and the lavender aroma from the lotion.
“To offer these hand massages may sound like a small thing, or even
silly,” says Marie-Jo Guth, one of the women’s ministries volunteers from
the Adventist church in Anduze, who spends time with Hamia and other
women from the shelter in the village.
“But to have this opportunity for physical contact, to have a soft touch
and soft talk, is something they really like. In all cases their hands are
coarse. These are not computer women’s hands; they work in the fields or do
cleaning work, so they have old hands. And they’re not used to hand cream.
It’s far too expensive for them; it’s a luxury.”
The main activity of these weekend gatherings—which take place several times a year—is actually card making and paper crafts. “We choose supplies with very lively, joyful colors,” Guth says. “These women have no income, no place to go, and in most cases, they barely speak French. But focusing on a creative activity gives them a diversion from their problems . . . at least for the afternoon.”
Guth and her fellow church members are a beautiful example of compassion in action, what some call compassionate giving. It’s the familiar but still-powerful notion of following Jesus’ blue- print: stepping outside church walls, spending time with people where they are, and meeting their needs with no other agenda.
In our oh-so-busy lives, it’s easy to feel we can’t add one more thing to our schedules. Or we may not know where to start reaching. But here are some ideas for inspiration, and a look at the unexpected benefits that may very well circle back to you.
Build on Your Passion. One of the most natural ways to connect with people is through a mutual interest. What are your talents, your passions? Can your favorite hobby serve others?
When Roberto Valencia was a design professor in the School of Arts and Communication at Montemorelos University in Mexico, he and his students experimented with community service activities that utilized their unique creative skills. They came up with a plan to provide photo portraits to members of the community who didn’t typically have such keepsakes.
“These were low-income people who were so busy just trying to earn a living day by day. Having their portrait taken was the last thing they were thinking about,” Valencia says. “But when new generations of a family come along, they want to know where their parents or grandparents came from. A picture can evoke so much and be a starting point for sharing these stories. The families with children are the ones who stand out the most in my memory. The parents were hardworking and didn’t get to spend much time with their kids. They were grateful for their portraits, and it was very special for them.”
Listen to your heart. There are countless needs in the world, and one person can’t tackle them all. So pause and focus on where your heart is leading. Do you absolutely love to read and can’t imagine not having that ability? There are likely adults in your community who have missed the opportunity to master this vital skill; your tutoring could transform their world. Visiting seniors who are losing vision and reading to them would be a gift beyond measure.
Feel free to start small. It can be daunting to commit to a weekly activity, or even a monthly one. Instead, look for one-time mini projects that you can tackle more easily.
Seasonal outreach is a good opportunity for this. My sister created Valentine’s Day cards with her young daughter and delivered them to elderly veterans. At Christmas they packaged pairs of warm socks and took them to a local homeless shelter. If you are an enthusiastic cyclist and have a knack for mechanics, perhaps you could set up a one-day bicycle repair clinic in your town. A loaf of home-baked bread can be a great conversation starter with your neighbor down the street.
Be a follower if you prefer. Not everyone is called to be a leader, and that’s perfectly appropriate. “In different activities, you can have different levels of involvement,” Valencia says. “I often saw that just by being present, it encouraged others who were much more capable to give meaningful help.”
Not all opportunities for service need to be found within the church setting. Many organizations do amazing work and have deep expertise in their chosen niche. By partnering with them, you can increase their impact, have a rich learning experience, and build relationships with both fellow volunteers and those you serve.
Realize that Jesus is your partner. Many of us have different comfort levels when it comes to witnessing out loud. Know that Jesus is always by your side. He will bring people to you if you cultivate an open heart, and give you the words to share when you talk to them.
“When we were with Hamia, she mentioned God’s name several times,” Guth says. “We took that opportunity to talk about God, to share that we have the same God.”
Get ready to receive blessings. “We all have challenges,” says Philip Stanley, director of community outreach at the Southern Asian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland, United States. “But often when we help people, when we come into contact with them and their circumstances, those challenges quickly dim. Hands-on service transforms you internally. It’s very rewarding.”
Community service can also transform congregations. For years, Stanley has organized service opportunities for collegiate Sabbath School members, feeding those who are homeless, taking mission trips, and partnering with national organizations.
“Often church becomes a revolving door for that age group,” he says. “In addition, our young people may not feel comfortable bringing a friend who is not an Adventist to our church services. But community outreach is a perfect opportunity for them to invite their friends to join an Adventist activity and serve together.”
Guth echoes this testimony: “Our church has only about 100 members, but we have activities every Sabbath and weekend. It’s very attractive for our teens’ non-Adventist friends, and every year we have two or three or four baptisms because of that. Now we have too many requests to join the Pathfinder group! Our church building is too small to handle them all.”
Reaching beyond the walls of your church to serve your neighbors? And eventually finding that those walls have become too small to encompass everyone who wants to join your church family? Now, that’s a vision worth embracing!