on doing good

Jobs.  It’s all about the jobs.  Gotta have one.

I really loved my first year at Seattle Pacific University, and the idea of going home and getting a job was offensive—not like the racist relative with whom you spend your holidays, but like the black beans you left in the fridge for too long, which now rot.  Laziness is really what it was.  My inner child sat on his chair in the corner screaming when he realized his summer would need to have some structure and—horror of horrors—productivity.

Reason won out, as it sometimes does.  But what should I do?  Barrista?  Hmmm!  Teach violin?  Yes, but that isn’t full time.  Physical labor?  Nobody would pay me for that.  Write a bunch and make a living off of submissions to literary journals?

Not easy, as it turns out.

Two summers ago, I participated in a program run by my church that hooks up people my age to intern with non-profit organizations.  The non-profit gets free labor, the student gets experience and some cash, and the church does good.  Win win win.  No matter what.  In the previous year, I helped with a camp for the young Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in our areas.  We played and read in the park, and then I went to the house of one family to help a high schooler learn English.

They gave me a rug on my first visit and wonderful homemade chai tea each time since.  The guy I was working with learned some English, but I think I was the one who learned the most in our time together.  Being gracious when you don’t have much is difficult, but it somehow means more.  (Mark 12: 41-44)

I have really fond memories of that summer.  It was beautiful in many ways.  I regret that the school year came around and I had to cut off my frequent visits to that family.

When I was thinking of places to apply for this summer, the most appealing thought was to do the same program again.  But that specific ministry stopped, so I had to find a different organization.  Bethany Christian Services has an office for refugee relocation twenty minutes from my house, so I applied there.  I thought that I would develop another deep, emotionally gratifying relationship with another family and get some more amazing chai.

I certainly have met some amazing people in the ESL classrooms I assist in, and learned a lot from them, but I’ve learned that the goal shouldn’t be to feel that you are doing a nice thing with your summer or to feel like you’re being benevolent.  It is wonderful to find self-worth in a job, but if the focus is all on the self we run the risk of being do-gooding pleasure seekers who move on once we get that nice feeling of satisfaction.

The people who I’ve learned the most from are my coworkers at Bethany.  I’m pretty sure there isn’t good money in social work, and I’ve seen that it can be a stressful job.  They sit at desks for many hours each day and slog through grants, budgets, legal documents, and lesson plans.  But, because of their sustained efforts (much longer than my measly three months), hundreds of people a year are brought to Grand Rapids from wretched situations and are given a place to live.  Then, the people at Bethany help them learn English, acquire job skills, and get a job within a very short amount of time.  It is a little bit miraculous.

My time at Bethany so far has made me question what I will do with my life.  It’s a question I’ve already been asking for a while.  College = questions.  But now I’m wondering if I have the patience to do good for others or only the desire to do good for myself.  Maybe the two aren’t entirely separate.

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