February 27, 2008

Growing a Personal Ministry

2008 1506 page28 cap dear community woman makes it her personal ministry to grow African violets to share with residents. We currently have five little plants needing good homes. If you want one, please respond to this e-mail!”
I sent such a message to Lamson Hall residents last week. Out of 540 recipients, I received 72 responses. Which confirms to me that personal passions can become personal ministries.
As long as I can remember, Ruth Roberts has ministered via violets. She splits them into individual cups and delivers them to my office, where they are given to anyone lonely, sad, or just needing something to love. Recipients tell me this one little plant makes them feel more at home, and that they are warmed by the thought that someone they have never even met cares so much about them.
Once, months ago, Ruth brought by one small violet, adding that she just had a feeling it would be needed. Soon, a girl sat in my office fighting tears as she shared how miserable and lonely she was, and how she thought maybe she just wasn’t “college material.” Studying the little bloomer Ruth had just dropped off, she wished aloud that she had at least thought to bring along a plant to make her room feel less lonely. I thrust the plant into her hands as I told her how Ruth had just brought this particular plant, how she never brought just one, how I felt it was meant for her. This growing thing could be a reminder that if Jesus cared enough to send Ruth and this little violet, He could be trusted to carry her the rest of the way. We cried and hugged, and she left clutching that little plant like the miracle message it was.
2008 1506 page28Just one little African violet. I’ve often said of Ruth, “I’d never have thought of raising plants as a ministry!” Which has then prompted me to ask, “So what else haven’t I thought of?”
What do you routinely do that’s not so routine for others? What do you already have that could be shared with others? If you’re good at negotiating, you could be a blessing to someone who is shopping for a high-cost item. Are you good at diagnosing mechanical problems? Many, nay, most of us aren’t, and your trusted input would set our minds at ease. Do you mail a lot of packages? Your congregation’s boarding school students would love a care package filled with church programs and goodies. That would sound like a real chore to someone who never mails a package, but for you it would be a cinch!
Did you grow up cooking vegetarian? If you didn’t, you have no idea how frustrating it is for the rest of us to make good veggie gravy! Your fashion sense, excess wardrobe, or power shopping could help people prepare for job interviews. Your kitchen could host a cooking night; your books could launch a church library; your care could coordinate an after-school program. . . .
So many things we already do well or are passionate about, have experience with, or have extras of, could bless others. Many cost little, some just time. The proverb is right: “Little is much when God is in it.” And if a tiny violet can bring joy to a student, what might bring cheer to a shut-in? Hope to the discouraged? Friendship to the lonely? The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.
So thank you, Ruth, and all who so creatively and generously share their time and talent. To the rest of us, what surprising and unthought-of seed could we plant in the name of Christ?
Valerie N. Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years. She adds, “You can acquire your own African violet by rooting, in water, a single leaf taken from a healthy plant. There’s a worship thought in that!”