I spent quite a few hours this week with a group of 12-15 year olds, some of whom had been looking forward to spending their Easter holidays on an outreach trip to South Africa, which in the end had to be postponed.
They were disappointed but I thought it would be good to try to affirm their desire to serve and to be stretched. I wasn’t sure how they would respond but I suggested we could do something like they would be doing in South Africa but somewhere a bit nearer to home. They weren’t sure, but they were willing to give it a go.
In the end, our outreach this week was only a couple of miles away. A small church in a nearby village has been struggling because its mainly elderly members have such a lot to do to maintain their building. I got in touch to ask if we could experimentally come and support them for a few days and they bravely said ‘yes’.
We offered them a day of cleaning and gardening (with some adult support) and to run a one-day holiday club for local children. We partnered with an experienced local charity and another youth group to make the holiday club happen and 75 children turned up on the day to take part.
I was pleased that we were able to be part of something so successful and so well organized as the holiday club. I thought that the young people would have enjoyed that feeling, too.
Gathering their feedback in the last couple of days, however, I’ve seen a different side to the story. The day that they felt the most alive, the day that they thought was the most important, the time that they felt most part of a team and closest to God was the day we spent polishing, hovering, window-washing and weeding. Although they enjoyed the fun and the games of the holiday club, they felt valued and empowered on the day we did physical jobs.
There’s quite a famous bit in the Bible about the link between what we believe and what we do – but this modern translation puts it in a refreshingly stark way, ‘Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!’
When we go out of our way to be generous, to notice, to care and when we do things as unlikely as a teenager giving up a day of their school holidays to weed without complaining, we find that our faith is breathing still.
What should be drudgery becomes joy because we find we are alive.