How do you sum up our approach (at least 80% of it) to Compassion Ministries in one word? Easy, it’s the word RELATIONSHIPS. It’s tempting to do things for people without really being with people. But relationships aren’t just about helping people from above; they’re also about walking beside people as friends. It’s about learning from people and not just giving to people. But here’s what I’m learning about this 80% factor: it is eye-opening, adventurous, and even downright fun.
Let me give you a personal example. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing dinner with three friends from Africa. After spending two hours sharing an African meal, we started talking about meals in general, in particular different cultural assumptions about sharing food. These friends are strikingly polite and kind, but they offered their honest critique about Americans’ strange approach to dinner etiquette.
One of my friends said, “I love this country, but I do not understand why Americans are so regimented about meals. Everything is so rigidly organized that there is very little room for friendship and hospitality.” Another friend chimed in: “In my country, the dinner table might be set for six, but the invitees are allowed and even expected to bring other guests at the last minute. It’s not rude to bring extra guests; it’s rude to not welcome those extra guests with open arms. If the host grumbles, word would get out that he is not a good man.” A third friend said, “Yes, but no matter how many guests eventually show up there is always enough places and enough food. We expect more company. We show honor to each guest.” The second friend added, “And they might end up staying at your house for the night, or longer.” I kind of gasped, “Okay, but the guests leave eventually, right?” “Yes,” my friend said, “but they might stay for a week or two, or even a month.”
I’m not saying that everyone can or should do meals and hospitality the “African way.” But I also sure left that dinner reconsidering my “American way” of doing meals. My African friends opened my eyes and challenged my assumptions. But they also touched my heart. I’ve grown accustomed to sharing meals—and life in general—in such a rushed, regimented way that it’s hard to build deep friendships and rich community. I may need to change, and I may need to ask my African friends to help me on the journey of transformation.
Now I think growing, changing, learning—especially learning better ways to follow Jesus—makes life fun and interesting. It’s not always easy, but it’s adventurous. But here’s my point: those kinds of interactions don’t happen when we just do things for people, instead of with people. We don’t learn. We don’t change and grow. We just expect people to become more like us. In real relationships, relationships in which we become open and vulnerable to the other person, our heart is touched and we change. We don’t just give; we also receive rich gifts from the person before us.
Sure, at times we will have to do things for people (that’s the smaller but sometimes essential 20% factor). But our basic goal is create opportunities to make sure the 80% factor actually fills up 80% of our time and energy.