For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.—Deuteronomy 10:17-19
By Dottie Cannon
It was difficult to identify a single Bible passage for tonight, one that both summarized my volunteer experience to a third world country and connected me to the birthplace of my ancestors. A phrase, parable or psalm that accurately conveyed the range of emotions when participating on a mission trip to a country where everything is new yet familiar, exciting yet overwhelming, and kind of scary. But I found such a passage, thanks to the help of a handy Bible app (very originally titled "Holy Bible") and to Sally Harwood, whom some of you know as the mission trip leader extraordinaire.
The passage from Deuteronomy speaks to the time when Moses brought the stone tablets to God, and God wrote the Ten Commandments on them. Moses continues speaking to the Israelites, saying "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
You shall "love the stranger" because you too were once a stranger. How beautiful is that? God is not partial and takes no bribe? Nice to think about on election night… the Lord executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers. This is the perfect passage, and certainly describes why I volunteer and why I have participated in international mission trips.
When we volunteer, we search for activities and opportunities that interest us and can also take us out of our comfort zone. For me, I have had such an experience where both my passion and areas of interest aligned with where I needed to push myself to something new… and that was traveling to Africa.
In 2015, as a church group, we visited Ministry of Hope-Lesotho, a nonprofit children’s center located in a small, landlocked country in southern Africa. There we met with Mamonyane Mohale, the co-founder and executive director, and inquired about her needs and desires for the children’s services, and where we as Fifth Avenue members could support her. What I was assigned to was interacting with the children, which helped to keep them away from the other volunteer activities, which required light construction and home improvements.
I was occupied and happy seeing the love and joy in the small children. I would hug them, hold them, read to them, play with them, trim their nails, and look into their eyes and tell them, "You are a Child of God." That’s what surprised me the most; we are all children of God. I saw in them the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I realized we all have more things in common than things that divide us. Even when we’re overwhelmed and kind of scared, we can look at one another with a sense of familiarity.
My second mission trip with Fifth Avenue was to the beautiful country of Madagascar this past April. We visited multiple water projects, a school, and learned about fruit tree grafting. Once again, in this educational and Christian-based volunteer opportunity, I met incredible people from our faith and others that are on their own journeys. We can all look to the greater world and notice that what connects us is far more important than our differences.
Regardless of where you do good works and how you show up, it is your presence and the light of Jesus Christ that makes an impact. If you have not already done so, I recommend a "stretch" volunteer assignment, one where you push yourself into a new space, so your heart and your spirit can expand. Try volunteering for the elderly, if you typically work with children. Volunteer with people from other ethnicities than yourself. Travel to a new country, and ask what is needed of your gifts. To maintain that love and light for ourselves, and to encourage it in others, we need to continue to lift one another up in prayer.
Dottie Cannon has been a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for six years and recently served as chair of the Outreach Committee. She shared this testimony during our annual volunteer event, Feed Your Soul, on Nov. 6.