It was only two weeks into my freshmen year in college when our entire campus embarked on something our university called Step Forward Day. For about 3000 students, our Saturday would be spent out in the surrounding cities of our little bubble in a day of service together. Our dorm was assigned the task of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Once we were done, we loaded up into a yellow school bus and were dropped off at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California.
There, I carefully watched my Resident Advisor casually approach a homeless woman, engage in friendly conversation, and offer her a sandwich. All 30 of us fresh-faced 18-year-olds were expected to do the same. It was the first time I had ever intentionally approached someone experiencing homelessness. It was so much simpler than I had imagined: Making eye contact. Offering a warm smile. If someone spoke to me, I responded. If they kept the conversation going, I stayed with them. This was all it took to learn the important lesson of noticing people that I have often overlooked – the people my parents taught me to ignore out of concern for my own safety.
When I read stories of Jesus’ ministry, I see this thread woven throughout his encounters with those in need of healing, inclusion, and kindness. How simple and profound his interactions were with people who were in pain, cast aside, or judged. In the gospel of Matthew, he invites people into discipleship by simply saying, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9). And they follow him, away from their homes and jobs. In the same chapter, we learn:
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Within the life of our congregation, PHPC Serves Week has become a bi-annual effort to collectively live into the ways God is calling us to be the church in the world. Last month, 80 PHPC members and friends dedicated over 166 hours in service throughout the metroplex… all in one week! (Not to mention those who regularly volunteer as tutors and teachers, Meals on Wheels deliverers, and more.)
On Monday, we supported a West Dallas effort to ensure all students have a third meal afterschool and packed over 1000 meals. During the lunch hour, preschoolers were enamored by guests who read books to them before their naptime. On Wednesday, food baskets were prepared and donated clothes were sorted so that low-income seniors on fixed incomes have access to supplemental resources. On Friday night, two elders on our session took their spouses to serve hot meals at a downtown homeless shelter. And on Saturday, we were on a farm in south Dallas, a residential community in Waxahachie, and warehouses in Richardson and West Dallas packing meals, harvesting squash, and supporting single parent families on the path to success.
Together, we go out into the fields not because we have any special powers or because we have it all together ourselves. We go out together to serve simply because Jesus invites us to follow him.