for release March 16, 2001
by Melodie Davis
The Importance of Service in Shaping Families
It doesn't take a national proclamation to point out the importance of faith-based initiatives in serving the needs of many in our communities. Wise parents and church leaders have been discovering that children and youth who grow up involved in hands-on service and ministry opportunities stand a better chance of sticking with the church for the long haul. Church/religious activities begin to mean something in every day life. In this Lenten season, many persons make an effort not only to "give up something" for Lent but to "take up something"-to get involved in a cause or service activity.
I was in Chicago recently and vividly recalled the weekend my dear Aunt Susie (now deceased) took my sisters and me there. We stayed at a place called the Gospel League Home in Chicago, and she wanted to give us full exposure to the needs in the city, circa the late 1950's. The Gospel League Home was an independent (I think) "rescue" mission that tried to help homeless women and children get back on their feet.
Talk about a mission weekend in the city. This was before youth groups went on formal or organized mission trips everywhere. Susie was her own one-woman mission agency. Not only did she organize, chaperone and probably fund this short term mission experience for us, she spent most of her summers traveling to numerous places to teach summer Bible school: the remote, under-populated areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; the mountains of Kentucky or southern Indiana, the streets of inner city Chicago or Indianapolis. She would recruit anyone within her contact circle from the ages of 13 to 83 to go with her and teach Bible school for one week or two. I was blessed to have the experience of teaching with her in Chicago, the Upper Peninsula and Kentucky.
Aunt Susie also raised funds for these various locations, but especially for the ministry that was so near to her heart, the Gospel League Home, by running a perpetual rummage sale out of her garage. She solicited donations of goods from everyone she knew and sold them with all proceeds going to mission.
But Susie was far from being my only impetus towards thinking of the needs of others in service or mission ventures. On family vacations, Dad made sure we would visit whatever mission church there happened to be wherever we were. One time we visited a church voluntary service household in Hannibal, Missouri where we stayed with the young people who had committed 1-2 years of working as volunteers in that city. It made a favorable impression on my young mind: wouldn't it be fun to live in a household of young adults? Eventually I took advantage of that opportunity as a volunteer for a year in Kentucky.
I say all this not to brag on my relatives or myself, but to emphasize the value of being an example when it comes to seeing that our children and their children grow up with a mindset towards helping others. The best service opportunities probably happen locally, in our own backyards, because there we already know the culture and the problems. Our congregations need to organize ways for whole families to be involved in local mission/service efforts.
But, short term mission experiences in a new community and culture can be direction setting for our youth. Yes, these trips can have all kinds of problems that we won't debate here: the primary benefit is still probably the exposure that insulated suburban kids receive. Some people feel that no matter how good our intentions and how deeply felt the compassion; you do more harm than good. These experiences have caused much grief and pain to folks on the so-called "receiving" end of service.
But, short term mission experiences can be structured and wrapped around study and learning components to reduce the us/them mentality, to stress the reciprocal nature of all service (what am I receiving from these people who are gracious enough to allow me to walk along side them for a short time?), and how could we maybe sponsor or invite people from the other location to come and minister among us?
Exposure to another culture and another way of life, whether here or abroad, is a vital part of training and educating all our children-both urban and rural. Together we can all do our little part and together they add up to something bigger.
For information on church-related service opportunities, check this web site: www.mbm.org <http://www.mbm.org> Or, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 765 words; end material = 105 words
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