Justice and Volunteering: Unpacking My 'Why'

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In a Christian Students Uniting (CSU) Bible study a year or two ago, the question came up of “How different would your life look if you weren’t a Christian?”. This question was really challenging to think about, and I struggled to be able to answer it. I found myself wondering how much of my life is simply the result of my upbringing and genetics, and how much is influenced by my walk with Christ. What would be different if I wasn’t a Christian? And what should be different? Needless to say, this question led to an internal existential crisis that is still going on today (what can I say, I am a bit of a dramatic person).

While I haven’t fully figured out the answer to this, what I do know is that as a Christian I strongly believe we are called to service and justice. CSU’s motto: “Keeping Faith, Doing Justice, Building Community” reflects this passion that we, as a community, have towards bringing justice into a world that is so often crying out for help. 

One merely needs to look at the life of Jesus to see that he brought restorative justice at every turn. Jesus restored sight to the blind, ate with tax collectors, healed lepers, defended the oppressed, fed the hungry, stood for women's rights, restored the outcast, the despised, and the rejected. In fact, he announces in Luke 4:18-19.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

    and recovering of sight to the blind,

    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

I do want to make it clear here that there was so much more to Jesus’ ministry than just physical justice. In fact, he addressed both physical and spiritual needs of the people he encountered at every turn. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross are a crucial part of meeting both physical and spiritual needs!

Jesus calls us to follow in his footsteps, to be servants of God. How does he suggest we do this? It seems to be laid out pretty clearly in the parable in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus says to the righteous that they will “inherit the kingdom” because they looked after his physical needs here on Earth. Then the people, justifiably confused, enquire as to when they ever did such things for him. The passage says: “37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’” 

Unpacking my ‘why’.

There are many traditional reasons why I choose to volunteer for so many different causes: things like seeing the smile on kids faces when they feel seen and cared for, the moral sense that as someone who lives a life of privilege I have the capacity to help those less fortunate and therefore should, that inner satisfaction of knowing I was able to make a person's day just that little bit better. The normal reasons one might think of when considering why someone is giving up their time for a cause.

With all of this said, what then makes my life look different as a Christian? I understand this as  living my life in full obedience to God each and everyday, whether I feel like it or not. I'm talking about the moments where helping others, bringing a small justice, are not self-serving in any way, do not bring in recognition, or feelings of satisfaction. I am reminded by Richard J. Foster that “true service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial”. As God said: “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me”. This is not restricted to the larger actions that look good on the resume (or social media).

To follow this call to justice that Jesus has so clearly laid out, I need to look for and take the smaller opportunities to support those around me. The ordinary, mundane, and trivial. Because it is in these small moments we are caring for God’s people, and within these people we can see the strength and hope of God.

When you’re tempted to think that these smaller moments, these smaller justices, are meaningless, I can tell you from first hand experience that the love of God is so clearly visible and powerful to the person you are helping. Throughout my life there have been many situations where I have been on the receiving end of those who were willing to help, and to serve. Let me share a story with you.

When I was in high school, there was a time when my family had a house inspection coming up, which meant a stressful few days beforehand to ensure the house was immaculately clean. However, as life often ensures, there was a lot going on in my family at this time. My Mum had just returned home from hospital recovering from a stroke, my Dad was suffering from severe back pain, and my brother and I were both studying for important exams. 

My brother and I were happy to help as much as we could with cleaning, but there was added pressure due to the importance of exams (I was in senior high school, and my brother in university). When it came time to clean the bathroom, it was obvious that neither of my parents were physically able to clean the bath and shower, and my brother and I were already expected to do so much other stuff that we didn’t really have time.

What happened? Well, a lovely lady, Alison, from the church we were a part of - a lady known for being a prayer warrior - came over and cleaned our bathroom, then prayed with my parents. To her, it seemed to be such a small, easy task. And yet, for us in that moment, it was so much more than that.. It was such a relief that I did not have to neglect my studies at all, while also making sure the house was ready for inspection. 

Through this action I felt loved and cared for. While she took on a little of the physical burden (actually cleaning) what she may not have realised is she also helped relieve a little of my mental and emotional stress. I felt my family was loved and cared for, and this made me realise that I am not alone and don’t have to do everything alone. And while I still struggle to reach out or accept help, knowing that there are people like Alison who care is a lesson I have not forgotten. And I pray that God provides me opportunities to be this person for those around me.

To those who prayed with and for me during difficult times, those who sat and listened without judgement, the friends who encouraged me to grow in my faith, the church leaders who taught me how to serve God, the church, and people by cultivating the gifts God had given me. All of these people responded to the call of God to serve. And all of these people are the reason I choose, again and again, to serve others around me, in whatever capacity that may be, albeit often in the form of volunteering trips.

These things might not sound like your typical “social justice warrior” actions. But this is where I believe a life and attitude of service starts. The bigger actions we take: prayer vigils for refugees, providing sanitation to people in developing countries, feeding those sleeping rough, donating time and money to charities - these are all incredibly important!

Before we tackle these important issues, we first need to address our inward reasoning, our purpose.

When I came to this question of how my life would look different - I asked myself: if I wasn’t a Christian would I still be volunteering? The answer I came to is probably yes, but I recognise that my why, my motivation, would be very different.

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As Christians, we start with our small acts of service - making space for a shy person to speak, picking up rubbish on the ground, giving a word of encouragement, holding open a door for someone - everyday acts which propel us into a life and attitude of service without reward, actions devoid of ego, and a humble heart as we do God’s work here on Earth.

This is, in part, my attempt to explain why over the years I have been known to take any and all volunteering opportunities that came my way. Whether that was leading a youth outreach program with my church when I was in high school, helping at a FoodCare service, tutoring kids in a rural school, running engineering workshops across schools, or travelling overseas to work on social enterprise projects to meet a need in a community. I am honestly blessed to have been in a position where I could have so many amazing experiences, and in coming blogs I will share some of these experiences with you.  In order to show the places where I see God’s love and hope working in our world.

I will leave you with this quote by John Wesley:

“Do all the good you can, by all means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

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