By Josh Dahl
As we, the 2018 Summer of Service team, prepared to head out and do God’s work, I was feeling pretty confident. I grew up in a Christian home, had relatively strong convictions and I thought I would have all the answers. After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Don’t get me wrong, our team leaders had done an incredible job of preparing us, but they couldn’t do much with stupidity and arrogance- which I was full of.
While working at Dublin Christian Mission in the heart of Ireland’s capital city, our days as interns/grunt workers for the mission consisted of gathering food donations, peeling roughly thirty pounds of potatoes per day, and submerging ourselves in the lives of Dublin’s homeless. I quickly learned that I was not in my element. I had never really dealt with such poverty and hopelessness.
The mission I worked with focused on building relationships through the mess of humanity and sharing the Good News from there. I learned to sit and listen. Truly listen. But I’ll be honest, at times it was difficult to understand them through slurred Irish accents and full mouths. Were these small distractions preventing me from doing what I was called to do? As I’d listen, I couldn’t help but wonder – How often do I listen to respond rather than listen to understand? Many of the guests who would come to the Lighthouse (our “soup kitchen” branch of the mission) only wanted to be heard and to know that their story mattered to someone. Sitting and listening wasn’t much but it was all they needed.
I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard listening to certain stories. There was so much hurt and emptiness in these people. Several times, I wrestled with the idea that most of them had grown up similarly to how I did – as I heard person after person allude to having a good family where God at least being acknowledged in their lives. I realize I haven’t lived nearly as long as they have but what made me so different?
I wanted so badly to help them. To point them to the Gospel and say, “Hey, Jesus, can help you!” Often, I was shut down. Too many of them had been hurt by Christians before and didn’t want anything to do with religion. They were just there for the free meal. It was when I came to the realization that I couldn’t force my own religion on someone that my arrogance dissolved. I couldn’t change people if they themselves didn’t want to change. Who was I to think I had all the answers? All I could do was scatter little seeds – seeds that could one day take root and grow into something spectacular.
The sad part about short-term missions is that you rarely see any results. Though I prayed to be used by God, I have no idea if that one conversation with that one guy made a difference in his life or if that cup of tea served with a smile really brightened someone’s day. Nonetheless, I was called to go out, and I obeyed. So I don’t know if I really even made a difference or scattered seeds in a faithful way that would produce life and maturation in Christ. My obedience isn’t filled with certainty as much as trust. All I can do now is pray.