May 7, 2008

Forget "Success"

2008 1513 page27 caphey were 12 businesspeople from the other side of the world—Minneapolis, Minnesota, to be exact. They’d come to a foreign country to make an investment. Not in a blossoming Wall Street stock, a rising Fortune 500 company, or the latest can’t-miss entrepreneurship; but in a person, a person with nothing to offer them.
They knew precisely why they were here. But they didn’t have a clue as to where that would lead them. Tonight it had led them here.
The mud-packed huts were covered by deteriorating bamboo-thatched roofs . . . the upscale ones. It didn’t really matter, the relentless rain found its way in. Tonight it was pouring.

During the day children enveloped the filthy streets with their fervent laughter and spirited games. Tonight their terrified faces silently lined the residence with the soundest roof.
Amid the torrential rains and frightened children sat the guardian of the AIDS-ravaged village: a 17-year-old girl. She kept watch while they played; she calmed them during the storms. Tonight she was outmatched.
2008 1513 page27At first the 12 businesspeople observed awkwardly, unable to comprehend what they were seeing, uncertain about how to help.
But the status quo quickly disappeared.
Simultaneously each took their coat and wrapped it around a petrified child; then, in 
a protective clutch gave shelter to the little bundle. Inside a tattered dwelling in a dying community, 12 businesspeople from Minnesota became 12 parents in that far country.
Soon thereafter the friends returned home. They’d met many desperate for help: dedicated doctors without money for supplies, overpopulated orphanages lacking beds and food, and vanishing villages devoid of safe drinking water. But none could shake the memory of the 17-year-old surrogate mother.
It seemed foolish to pour resources into her living ghost town. But their minds would not let them forget. Although failure was a foregone conclusion, they invested in the village. They invested in her.
More Than Success
Giving money to a community of dying children seems as ridiculous a notion as handing $20 bills to a beggar holding a bottle; or trying to free religious prisoners by writing letters; or offering to die for a bunch of people who will ultimately reject you.
Only when we stop letting quantifiable “success” dictate how, or if, we reach out to others will we be able to live a life of true service.
Don’t be too concerned about the bottom line. In this world motive takes a backseat to results. We must constantly analyze ourselves to be certain that our service to others isn’t ultimately about what we get out of it. Do we care about people, or baptismal numbers?
Serve despite obvious failure. We hear all the time the story about Jesus washing Peter’s feet. It makes us feel good because we know Peter will make it. But Jesus washed the feet of every disciple—including one who would betray Him to death. Are we willing to actively love the Judases in our lives, including those who will hurt themselves—and us?
Put down the heaven-colored glasses. I’ve often heard pastors encourage their members to “see past this earth and look through the eyes of heaven.” What if those eyes told you every person your prison ministries team witnessed to would fall short of salvation? Jesus knew Judas’s eternal course would be dark. He’d wash his feet again. Would you?
You’ve heard the phrase: “Jesus would have died if only one would accept salvation.” I think it’s better than that. Jesus would have given His life if none would have accepted salvation. His motivation was not to fill a quota for heaven; it was to love and serve with every ounce of His being.
When we begin to serve others, not because of immediate impact or definitive success, but because like that 17-year-old girl each of us has been invested in by something far greater than ourselves, each act of love, no matter the results, becomes successful.
This isn’t a free pass to act foolishly with money, time, or resources. It’s an invitation to throw out the norms and respond to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit.
And we don’t (maybe) even have to go beyond our own country.
Jimmy Phillips is a senior communications major, graduating this month from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.