These reflections by members Lars Johanson and Rosemary Affedlt were delivered to the congregation during worship on Sunday, September 10, 2017, as we celebrated a ELCA churchwide “God’s Work. Our Hands.” day of service.
When we consider the ELCA motto, God’s Work, Our Hands, it is not always immediately clear what our hands should do. There are so many needs and so many ways to help.
One way to start is to recall the words of Paul in the second chapter of Philippians: “In humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. “
But how do we match the interest of others to the persons we are? Sometimes we need the right circumstances and moment before we realize that our appropriate activities are a reflection of who we are.
For the past few years I have been involved in various activities to support immigrants and refugees. My interest in their causes is a result of those people who have been closest in my life. My grandparents and parents came from Sweden and the Netherlands. As many of you know, my wife, Marita, emigrated from Finland. My story so far is one of many typical stories of those with recent ancestors from Europe.
However my perspectives on other human beings and their life circumstances started to change substantially 30 years ago. In spring 1987 I traveled to Bogota Colombia to adopt my daughter Lovisa. Her birth mother was not able to take care of yet another child in her large family. In Lovisa’s orphanage there were many other children who had been abandoned because their parents were victims of a civil war or were too poor to care for them. Lovisa, Marita and I visited Colombia two months ago and saw for ourselves that poor economic circumstances still affect many Colombians.
Our family saga entered another phase two years ago when Lovisa got married. Her spouse had lived in a refugee camp in Cambodia as a child and was lucky to come to the US with her parents and siblings through the kindness of sponsors.
So everyone in my family has a different immigrant story and each one’s challenges have been different. However, there has always been someone such as a teacher of English to foreigners who has helped ease the way.
Today there are still challenges. Several of Lovisa’s fellow adoptees have been accosted in school and told to go back to the countries they come from. Can you imagine: an adopted child who was abandoned once is now told in her new country you don’t belong!
Stories such as this have re-energized me to help all immigrants and refugees. There are so many ways to help. One can donate goods and money to various international and local organizations. One can write letters to political leaders and newspapers.
But it means so much more if you just show up at a vigil or a meeting. And who knows where that may lead! Your physical presence indicates to the community that you care what happens to all immigrants and refugees. You also give a sign of solidarity and encouragement to others who want to support immigrants and refugees. Perhaps even more importantly you show to those immigrants and refugees that you are one US citizen who cares and supports them.
When I attended a vigil in Manchester I met some Indonesians who were scheduled for deportation hearings. They are fellow human beings who have feelings and struggle every day. They want what you and I want: a safe place to live and raise a family.
As we ponder what we should do, we should remember the words of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner:
“In the face of suffering, one has no right to turn away, not to see. In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way. When someone suffers, and it is not you, that person comes first.”
NOT JUST VOLUNTEER WORK
My alarm is going off…I look at the clock and see it’s 6:00am……but it’s Saturday! Then I remember it’s my day to volunteer with COVER Home Repair. I look at the thermometer and realize it’s really cold out, but the roof on the house we’re working on needs to be completed before the snow flies.
I quickly get dressed, eat breakfast and look for my directions to the mobile home in WRJ. The work that COVER does is not easy; it is right up there I think, with the challenge of forming a family and raising children. But there have been many teachers along the way, people who have been willing to be vulnerable, to open their hearts to giving and receiving. Then I begin to think of that moment at the beginning of the work day, when we all gather and I wonder, “How is this going to work out? What will be asked of me? Am I going to measure up? Have I dressed warmly enough? What will all these strangers (both homeowners and volunteers) think of me? Will I be able to do the work? Will the homeowners be tolerant of us amateurs taking over and working in and on their home?
I lessen my anxiety by allowing my thoughts to turn to COVER’s mission – the core of what we aspire to accomplish, namely to “foster hope and build community.”
Overall being able to volunteer is a privilege and a tangible way of loving our neighbors.
As we assemble in the warm kitchen, volunteers and homeowners together…I hear the voice of Hugh MacArthur, the COVER Home Repair Director, introducing the homeowners to us and asking us to go around the circle, introduce ourselves and say something about who we are and why we’re here today. This initial activity which I have engaged in many times over many years has become the highlight of my work day with COVER. I listen to the stories. I tell my brief story out loud, about being a long term COVER volunteer and Board member, but in my mind is the awareness that I am really here because I believe that volunteering is a mandate that I have been given. For me, this volunteer work gives meaning to Christ’s words to love your neighbor, this is my way to live out my faith through my work for and with those in need. I believe that this is the way I live out my faith. Others may choose to do it differently. In service to others, I continue to carry out God’s Work amongst His people, and allow the Church to be alive in the community, and the world.
These few moments standing together, sharing our thoughts, set the tone for our day, for our work together. They connect us despite whatever the motivation might be for the other volunteers who are here today. I no longer feel like a stranger but connected through a common goal, work that we will accomplish together for the homeowners, who are now becoming our friends.
The volunteers I have worked with come from all walks of life, and whether they are talented at construction or have never touched a hammer, everyone leaves at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. At the end of a long hard workday, it’s really rewarding to look back at that roof you have just completed and to know that these homeowners can now live in a warm safe environment. These projects make life-altering changes to the health and safety of individuals and families – all of whom are members of the body of Christ.
I have said many times to homeowners that I get as much out of doing this work, as they receive. Some believe me, and some don’t. But, regardless, I was drawn in by the sense of service going both ways. It is a blessing to experience what love can do, to see that real change can be accomplished by people with dedicated, open hearts.
As I stand in the circle with other volunteers, in the home of complete strangers, I am grateful to have this opportunity to both give and to take. This is why my alarm is set for 6:00am on a cold Saturday morning.
This is why I celebrate “God’s Work. Our Hands.” every day of the year.