I have worked with the high school men from our student ministry (Veritas Student Ministry) for six years. I have the privilege of leading their small group. So, I am invested in the student ministry.
One of the defining ministry events each year is Veritas’ annual mission trip to New Orleans. I have been six years in a row (I believe). The trip takes its unique shape each year, but there are some consistent elements. Evangelism conversations in local parks, some type of work with children, whether a VBS or backyard Bible club, and, more recently, construction projects for those in need. I have typically headed up the construction projects but have still had opportunities to have good news conversations with folks in the park or elsewhere.
This year was different.
This year, I spent every day painting the exterior of a house for Mr. James and Mrs. Betty. Mr. James is eighty-three and bedridden. As you can imagine, painting the exterior of a house in NOLA in July is not easy. It is hot and humid, and to add to that, I am leading a team of middle and high school students to do the work with the help of two other leaders.
Every day I would come in from the heat exhausted. Then, in the evening, I would hear reports from the other students and leaders in our group about the amazing good news conversations they had during their assignments. If I let it, I could have become envious. After all, they’re out there proclaiming glorious gospel truths, and I am repainting what a student already “painted.” Did I drive twelve hours to NOLA to paint a house and then go home? Did the paint I was slapping on the side of the house really matter?
On top of that thought, as is often the case of mission trips, you only know half the story with the service projects. Usually, you arrive, and you don’t have the tools to be as effective as you could be; there are different issues with the project that you know need to be addressed, but you didn’t bring those tools, you don’t have the resources or the time to do the job you want to do, so you are forced simply to do the best you can, knowing more is needed. For example, I may be painting a piece of siding I know needs to be replaced, but I don’t have the time, tools, or resources to make it happen. If you’re anything like me, that can be frustrating.
So again, the question creeps in, “Did the paint I was slapping on the side of the house really matter?”
Now, I am a pretty determined individual, sometimes to a fault, and the leaders I was with are no strangers to hard manual labor. Additionally, our student ministry culture that has been developed over the years is one of service and hard work. They are not the student ministry that looks for a “mission experience.” They are a student ministry that grinds in light of the gospel. So, I knew we would finish the project, and we did.
The house looked 1,000 times better, but did it really matter?
The answer is yes for two reasons. First, it mattered not because of the siding on the outside of the house but because of the image bearers on the inside of the house. As we finished up, we were able to have a conversation with Mr. James and Mrs. Betty. He shared numerous stories from their lives. We got to hear their story.
He shared how his house had not been painted since 2007 and how he had asked others for help for years to no avail. Then, middle and high school students show up and do the work. He shared how their attitude and actions had helped him re-spark a faith he had admittedly neglected. He openly shared struggles, which we got to pray for. After working hard on this house for four straight days, I was ready to be done with it, but after talking to Mr. James, I didn’t want to leave. We got to share some about our hope and why we came. We were simply modeling our Savior. A conversation that would never have happened had we not slapped that paint on the side of the house.
Second, we are blessed, and we were able to be a blessing. When we first arrived, we noticed that there was a Christmas tree up in the living room. On our last day there, Mrs. Betty told us she put it up because we were her Christmas in July. The gift we brought was a painted house. We, as image bearers, we able to bless other image bearers; to make the world a little better by spreading just a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. What a glorious reason to grind, to help others get a clearer picture of God’s kingdom!
This truth isn’t only true on mission trips. This truth is true in our everyday lives when we properly frame our lives around Christ’s redemptive work. Stay-at-home moms grind so their kids to see the sacrificial nature of the gospel lived out. Dads work hard to demonstrate to their wives and kids that there is a heavenly Father who provides. Christian employees avoid the typical workplace grumbling because they know that, at heart, grumbling and complaining is anti-worship, and our grumbling is an errant confession about our God. It is a theological problem.
So, when faced with the grind, remember we serve a King who is no stranger to it. He humbled himself, stepping out of heaven, taking the form of a man, lived a life without sin in a broken world, and was executed on a cross all to show images bearers, who disparately needed it, the Kingdom of God and make a way for them to be a part of it. Every day we have the opportunity to bless others (to be someone’s “Christmas in July”) if we are just willing, with God’s grace, to grind.
It really matters.