crossing borders

Beyond the door

by Steve Brock on March 28, 2012

Lock on doorI was just thinking about Keri’s post over on Pop Parables regarding the concept of “slacktivism” in light of the Kony 2012 social media frenzy. Keri explored our tendency to want to make a difference without actually doing anything that does.

It reminded me that many of us do the same thing with travel. Aspirationally, we want to get on a plane and solve the world’s problems directly. But then, little details like finances, work/school commitments or family arise and we settle for signing petitions and wearing bracelets. We write checks and tell our friends about the causes we care about and we figure that’s about all we can realistically do.

But is it?

Most of the time, we don’t engage in helping others because we tell ourselves we don’t have time (c’mon, be honest, you know you’ve used that line as much as I have) or we don’t know how. But opportunities to serve in meaningful ways lie all around us.

If we’ll see them.

Last month, for example, I spent a Saturday with a group of youth from our church distributing food to low-income households in our community. As we went door to door at an apartment building with our bags of food, we would knock. Some doors remained closed, the residents either absent or unresponsive.

Yet for those who did open their doors, they revealed the interiors, places of daily life. Lives very different…yet surprisingly very much like my own.

I didn’t have to travel overseas to understand some of our deep similarities such as the desire to create a living space that is both functional and special, reflecting the unique personalities of the residents. But I did have to be there.

I had to show up, engaging people not in a public setting but in their very homes to comprehend our similarities on a level that cuts through my presuppositions and stereotypes. I had to cross borders I rarely think I’ve erected to realize how stupid yet formidable such borders are.

I’ve driven by these same apartments hundreds of times without knowing (or if I’m honest, even wanting to know) the lives lived there. But that is all different now, or so I hope, because having taking even this one first step to reach out to people I don’t know, I realize that I will be back. I will make the trip that in miles is minimal but in impact, well, who can say?

These doorways are not my destination. They are only a start, a small step in the journey toward deeper relationships. If I don’t follow up, I’m doing no more – perhaps even less – than those who merely text in their support for Kony 2012.

The most obvious realization – that has, to this point been not obvious at all – is this: these people and I all live in the same town. They are, in every sense, my neighbors.

And even though I recognize that I don’t really know the people there that much better than I did before, there is one tremendous difference.

I now know that I can.

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 How about you? Crossed any borders lately in your own home town? Found any ways to make a difference locally?

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Crossing Borders

by Steve Brock on November 5, 2010

Barbed wire fence in countryside

Not all borders and boundaries are so clearly marked...

I once heard Ray Bakke, the “father of urban missions” and founder of the Bakke Graduate University respond to a question about the importance of going overseas to serve others versus addressing the needs of the urban poor in your own backyard. Instead of answering the question directly, Ray made an interesting distinction between missions and ministry.

Missions, he noted, is ministry that crosses borders.

Missions may mean going to the other side of the world to serve. Or it may simply mean crossing the street to meet with a neighbor who is different from you. Borders and boundaries show up in unusual ways and places.

I found this out shortly after I got married. My wife and I had recently joined a large church in an affluent area near West Los Angeles where we lived. We were a bit unsure of a church where most of the congregants lived in houses whose closets were bigger than our apartment. But they seemed like normal folks trying to do the right thing and besides, we adored the people in our “recently married” class and small group.

One day, we took advantage of an opportunity to volunteer with a group from church at downtown LA’s Union Rescue Mission (URM). I figured I was pretty savvy and sensitive about cross-cultural experiences and felt it a good way to serve those less fortunate than me. So off we went one Saturday to prepare meals for the homeless.

The leader of our little expedition was a woman that appeared to be the last person you’d expect to see working at a homeless shelter. I’ll call her Pauline. Her hair was bright: any more bleaching and it would have been transparent. Her false eye lashes created weather patterns of their own when she blinked. Her jewelry made the word “bling” seem understated. And yet, she led our group with a comfortable sense of purpose.

When we arrived at URM, I got assigned to the kitchen where the kettles looked like props from The Land of the Giants. Pauline, on the other hand, just took off. I helped prepare, serve and clean up the meal. I didn’t see Pauline during any of this until near the end of our time there. Then I spotted her. She was deep into a conversation with two of the homeless men listening intensely, fully present to them.

Then it hit me: I was Martha to her Mary (Luke 10:40-41). I engaged with the staff in the kitchen, but I was just another volunteer to them. She engaged with the guests out in the dining area in life-changing conversations.

We both traveled to the same place geographically, but I never truly crossed the border. She did.

I had an experience. She made a difference.

I found out later she regularly went down there. The staff and the guests loved her. They didn’t pay attention to her externals as I did. They saw her heart. Which is exactly what she did with them. 

You can travel the world and never cross a border that matters or you can go the distance with the people right around you. Meaningful journeys aren’t always measured in miles.

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