If you’re like me, then the desire to live a missional life comes with a whole host of inner conflict. Where do I start? Is it effective? Is it sustainable? Am I giving fish or teaching to fish? What if I disrupt a local economy? Am I incentivizing unwanted behaviors? Am I enabling? Am I fully utilizing my gifts? What if my gifts don’t feel very missional? Should I just give money? What if I’m unfairly projecting my middle class western ideals? What if I do more harm than good?
By this point, any good intentions I had when I started have been smothered by a big, confusing blanket of guilt and shame and I’m curled up under it wondering if I will ever leave my bed again.
Thankfully, not everyone is like me.
To the best of my knowledge, the good people at Mobile Loaves and Fishes leave their beds every single day. At least one of them dared to hope in the face of their doubt, and he/she dared to dream up the Community First! project, a 27-acre master plan community that will house in low-rent houses and bungalows 240 people who were formerly chronically homeless. More than houses, they are building a community, centered around a garden with opportunities for job training and trade making, access to healthcare, the gift of redemption, and a new way to live.
While Alan Graham and Co. were scheming up Community First!, I was seeing a few values emerge in the conversations I was having with myself.
1) There is value in the sheer process of doing something outside yourself. I’m not always good at remembering I believe this, but somewhere deep down, I do.
2) While the one-off charitable act may or may not be what Jesus would do, we should absolutely create and support institutions that fight systemic injustice in thoughtful and sustainable ways. Insofar as we know how.
3) We should promote excellence in our own lives and our own fields, whatever they are, and we should celebrate and support others who are excellent in theirs.
These things eventually emboldened me to come out from under my covers and open up my eyes and ears to opportunities that fit my new paradigm of philanthropy. At Vox, it’s not hard to find great people doing great things. The honest reason I chose MLF is simply that they asked at the right time and they made it easy to get involved. If there’s one thing I like almost as much as excellence, it is efficiency. Efficiency to move me from my bed in the morning to my bed at night, maximizing my positive impact on the world while minimizing my effort exerted.
Now that I’m volunteering at Community First! once a month, my task is two-fold. One, as part of what’s called MyTeam, I partner with one of the managers to support and encourage him as he leads a different team of volunteers each week. Two, to do the actual task assigned to our team. Trust me, I have no special gardening skills and no special friend-making superpowers, but every week I’m out there is so good. You meet interesting people. You feel the sun shine. You see food growing that you had no idea actually grew on plants. You get dirty. Like dirt dirty. And it’s easy! Dont’ get me wrong: The actual work is hard. But being there, jumping in, making a difference, contributing to an endeavor that is sustainable, impactful, beautiful, excellent, praiseworthy and right? Way easier than trying to solve these problems on my own.
So far, I’ve tried my hand at…
Beekeeping. By far the most exciting, dramatic assignment. Did you know that the pollen these east Austin bees have been collecting for honey is five percent marijuana?
Bed Building. Garden beds, not sleeping beds, although I wasn’t sure at first. If you’re looking for an upper body workout, this is your best bet.
Brunch Team. Feed fifty people using nothing but an open fire and your bare hands? Okay!
Also featuring mulch moving, harvesting, brush clearing, and more!
And do you know what’s amazing? Coming home every time, I feel sweaty and achy and tired and I feel so good. It’s the opposite of how I feel when I’m burning with all these questions and cynicisms and I feel so paralyzed that I end up doing nothing.
In the very process of getting outside myself–even just getting outside–I realized that all my hyperanalyzing had made the act of service about me and my ability to save the world. I started to believe it rested on me to know what’s right and what everyone needs. Let’s be honest: most of the time, I don’t even know what I need. Half the time when I do know, I flat out do the opposite. It turns out, I can’t save the world any more than I can save myself. It helps to remind myself that I don’t need to save the world. When I start down the rabbit hole of doubt and criticism, it helps to remind myself that I’m the one that needs saving.
Katie Garcia is a Vox-goer who’s been attending for the last 1.5 years. In addition to serving with MLF, she hosts and helps with coffee at Vox on a regular basis, so you can find her there. She is a web developer here in Austin who is also famous for her Thai food.
photo by Audubon @ Flickr.