Equal Isn't Better

The whole group on our final day, visiting the Zoo
Last week I had the opportunity to go on a missions trip to Living Hope Church on the south side of Chicago. This trip was very special for many reasons. It was my last big event with my current church, I had the chance to serve in some unique ways in a vital ministry in Chicago, and I got to serve alongside my brother who is their Minister of Worship and Youth. In preparation for the trip our team read part of the book Toxic Charity, which I highly recommend. We really wanted to go into this time with the correct mindset, understanding that we weren't going to fix things or show anyone how to properly do ministry. Rather, our job was to partner with an already working ministry and help, not hinder, their efforts. In the process I learned a lot about myself and how I see others. Here are a few of my observations:

1. My way isn't the best way
Throughout our week there were many chances for me to give input on how things should be done. I had led worship before and run games at a few camps. Perhaps my past experience would be beneficial in this setting as well. Not! (remember saying "Not" all the time back in the '90s?) My way of doing things may work in my particular context at a youth camp with bunch of middle class kids from suburbia. Why would I think that doing things my way would also work in a neighborhood of kids on the south-side of Chicago, most of which come from low income and broken families? Context matters. Jeremy and the other leaders knew these kids and how to treat them and reach them most effectively. When I'm outside of my comfort zone and the place where I've already tried out my methods, I need to let others lead. My job is to humbly follow, learning all the while how best to serve in whatever way I can.

2. Equal isn't better, or different isn't good or bad, it's just different
So often I think that I have the best life, or at least an idea of what a good life is. But what do I know? Maybe I can define what a good life is for me, but who am I to declare that someone else's life is better or worse than mine because of where they live or how much money they have or what race they are? This was a hard lesson for me. Often I see the inner city and think, "I wish I could help those people get out of there and onto a better life." What an arrogant thing to say. As I observed these smiling kids and servant-minded adults I was firmly put in my place. Life in the inner city is different than life in the suburbs or rural America, but that doesn't mean it is worse or better. There are still the same struggles with sin, the temptations towards discontentment, the closeness of family and friends, and the joys of fellowship with other Christians. I shouldn't assume that everyone aspires to my definition of what a good life is. In fact, I need to throw out my definition of a good life and see things with a better perspective. The Bible defines a good life as one filled with obedience, trials, dependence on grace, and worship. This week opened my eyes to see that better.

3. Parity is better than charity
This idea comes directly from Toxic Charity. Parity is what we did on this trip- partnering with another church to accomplish a common goal (two way giving). Charity is what we wanted to avoid- giving money or effort to something without partnering (one way giving). We didn't want to go and just do a bunch of things to have the missions trip experience- painting walls that didn't need painting, doing projects that just made us feel good, but not really helping where the church needed it. We wanted to go and serve. It wasn't a glamorous week. We didn't build a school or dig a well or lead thousands to Christ. But, I believe we did help by partnering with the church where it needed it. We cleaned rooms, painted a stairwell, cooked a meal, built a deck, and helped manage the kids during VBS. That is what the church asked us to do, and ultimately it was more important to help how the church wanted us to help rather than do what we wanted to do in order to get the experience of inner city Chicago. Again, I would point you to the book Toxic Charity for a lot of great wisdom regarding this issue.

All in all it was a great week away. I'll be thinking about these lessons learned for a long time ahead. Hopefully our efforts will have a lasting impact both in our hearts and at Living Hope Church.

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