By Cody Miller, Service Learning Project Manager, ELCA
“31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:31-32
When we go out into our communities to serve, why do we do it? Many of us have different answers. Some go to feel good about themselves for doing something that helps others. Others are passionate about what they are doing. Probably all of us genuinely want to help the community that we are serving.
Serving others does not necessarily have to be picking up a hammer and building a Habitat for Humanity home. Serving others can be something as simple as listening to someone else’s story to better understand what they need, so we can walk alongside them as we serve them and recognize that God is already at work through them. That is what the accompaniment model of serving is: not coming in thinking that we know what they need, but intentionally listening to their needs so that we may better serve them.
When thinking about the idea of accompaniment, I am often reminded of the story of the Road to Emmaus. Two people were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking and grieving about Jesus being crucified and all had taken place the past few days. All of the sudden Jesus appeared, walked with them, listened to them and was in relationship with them. Later that night at dinner, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. When we serve, we walk that road to Emmaus. We walk alongside our communities, listening, and being in relationship. Then we see God reveals Godself to us.
I was part of the planning team for the ELCA Youth Gathering that was just held here in Houston. Our team was tasked with developing all of the service projects that the 30,000 high schoolers would do in the three days that they served. We spent the better part of two years developing the projects. One reason we spent so long was because we had to find 200 unique opportunities to serve to accommodate that many participants, but we also spent that time intentionally listening to the needs of the city of Houston and finding ways where we could help further the mission of our community partners.
Our hope was that when the participants showed up to serve that they were already entering into a relationship that had been nurtured, and that they would come in with open ears and open hearts to help in whatever way they were asked.
God’s Work Our Hands was less than a month ago, but there is never a bad time to go out into our communities and listen to what the needs are and explore how we can best serve. It can be tasks such as helping stock the local food pantry, or lending a helping hand to teachers, or preparing a meal for the nearby fire department.
We always finish our worships service with the words “Go in Peace, and Serve the Lord.” That is what we are called to do. To go out, serve, and witness God at work through all of us.