From a summer in Memphis.
A red brick house on Eva Street in Binghampton stands with a leaky roof and a sign in front of it sporting the letters “SOS”.
SOS – Service Over Self.
Those word stand for the nonprofit I’m working for this summer. But what do they really mean? What does “service” mean to my generation in American society? Do we ever genuinely “serve over ourselves?”
You see, I see this problem growing every spring break and every summer. I’ve even been a part of this problem. It’s a problem of young people spending a week of their year “serving” the “less fortunate” and then retreating right back to their comfortable way of living.
Let’s first clarify the word “service.” It is not synonymous with pitying. It is not some gift the rich bestow on the poor. And merely being a warm body on your mission or service trip – as in just going along for the ride because that’s what your friends are doing or to spice up your résumé – certainly doesn’t count as service. Instagraming a photo of the houses in Binghampton with a Bible verse as a caption does not equate to picking up a hammer and attempting to improve the qualify of life for people in that area. True service isn’t interested in making you look good.
And, incredibly, true service is what I saw reflected in so many people this past week. Campers from eight churches joined the SOS summer staff for our first week of camp, which mostly consisted of deshingling roofs under a hot Memphis sun. Granted, some campers viewed service as showing up in Memphis but checking out at the worksite. That was me once, and Lord knows that’s unavoidable so long as apathy and lazyness are still alive and well.
But what really excited and encouraged me were the kids who didn’t show up so they could humble brag on Facebook about how they single-handily saved inner-city Memphis. Instead, these kids showed up, not to make themselves look good, but to serve with gentle, genuine and humble hearts.
What I hope week one of camp showed these kids, and what it certainly showed me, is that we are called to serve everyone because we are called to love everyone. Service is synonymous with love. When I view service in that sense, I cease to see it as a gift only “wealthy” folks can give. I cease to see it as one week or one summer out of my year. Living in service becomes a lifestyle I can lead everyday.
I see service as a call to love others, who are just as broken as I am, as closely as I can to the way Christ loves me. I choose to serve over myself, because I am able to recognize ever so slightly that I’m not the most important person in my story. And thank God for that.
Campers just arrived here in the Bing for week two. More roofing, lessons and challenges are no doubt in store as the summer continues to pick up steam. And I have no doubt this week will bring more living and breathing examples of what true service means.