Volunteering: Just Show Up

There is an incredible shortage of volunteers in our community. If I did a poll right now of the hundred or so people in my office who volunteer for any charitable cause on a regular basis, I would put good money that the number of people would be 2% or less. Let’s go a step further. I would venture to say that out of the several thousand people who attend my church every week, the percentage is even less than 2%.

Knowing this, I’ve been forced to do some soul searching lately. When you buy into the whole Christianity thing it’s supposed to change your life, your world view, your core beliefs. I would say that it’s certainly changed my life in many ways, but the one way that I’m most aware that there’s not been significant change is in the area of compassion for others. And I don’t think I’m alone. But why is this? Are we a bunch of self absorbed, apathetic jerks? No, I think it’s simpler than that. I think we’re plain scared.

Scared? Scared of what? Heck, I get up at church a few times a month and play drums in front of several thousand people. I don’t even get a twitch of nervousness. It’s as easy as breathing to me. Yet when my wife asked me to come out and play frisbee and make crafts with a bunch of poor kids in southeast Fresno I’m suddenly shaking in my boots and looking for excuses not to go. I have chores to do. I’m tired from working all week, etc, etc. But that’s all crap. When I look down inside, I see that I’m simply scared. And the reasons I’m scared reveal some very ugly, ugly attitudes. So I’ll just throw them out there, let’s not screw around here alright?

I don’t like hanging out with poor people. They are dirty. They are uneducated. They are crass. They are lazy. Their neighborhoods are dangerous. They’ve made their situation. They are not worthy of my time.

Wow. That’s some ugly crap right there. If this weren’t a family friend blog, I’d be using a stream of expletives to explain how vile and nasty that admission tastes to me right now. But I write it because I don’t think I’m alone here.

They say the faults we find in others are driven by the the things we hate about ourselves. I think the greatest fear I have in reaching out to to others is that I’ll have to face the fact that when all the pretty things I’ve surrounded myself are off the table, and I’m on their turf, and it’s just one on one, It’s going to become apparent that I’m not as awesome as I think I am. I’m afraid they won’t like me. It’s me who’s not worthy. That’s scary.

I write all of this because I was humbled this weekend once again. The last time I was humbled like this was when I went to Africa. I came back with a new outlook on life but I quickly let that outlook deteriorate into old routines again. I let the fear back in. But as I mentioned earlier, my wife asked me to come play with some kids and so I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. And I was humbled again.

What I experienced were a bunch of kids from all kinds of cultural backgrounds and with all kinds of family structures. Most of these kids were under 10 years old, walking up unsupervised, often with kindergarten age siblings in tow. Many speak broken english or none at all. They show up with smiling faces, wanting to play. And so this is where I realized that I had all these feelings and fears pent up and these little smiling kids were quickly washing those fears away. It was a freeing experience.

They don’t care if you have any great skills. They don’t care about your house or your job or your status. They don’t care about your color, or your age. They aren’t interesting in judging you or holding you to some standard. All they want is some face time. They want an adult that’s willing to play. Somebody who’s willing to throw a frisbee or have a sack race, or slide down a piece of plastic soaked with water. They just want somebody to show up and put in some time.

And so to bring it all the way around, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to just show up. Tuck our preconceived notions away, quit trying to put on some false front, and just show up. Just show the heck up.

In the next few days I’m going to post some video and stuff of this past weekend. I’m also going to see if I can get a list of volunteering opportunities from the church. There’s a lot that needs to be done out there and not enough people to do it. Hopefully more of us will be encouraged to help out. It will be life changing, I guarantee it.