The morning came when I was to volunteer for Rainbow Village. They were moving their offices from the original location in Norcross to a new address in Duluth, and I had offered to help with the move. As I prepared to leave home I was pleasantly surprised by my wife’s offer to go along with me.
I was excited to have my wife accompany me. I wanted Jill to experience the same joy I feel when working with any one of the ministries I’ve come to know through Community Outreach. As we drove away from our home I imagined how she, a middle school teacher, would enjoy spending time talking with the children who call Rainbow Village home.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed upon our arrival. There were no families in sight, no children eager to have an adult read to them or play a board game with them. The children arrive in the afternoon, we learned. Nevertheless Jill willingly worked alongside me, lugging out and stuffing large packed boxes with unknown contents into our SUV. We were to take them to the temporary storage unit a few miles away.
As we worked we repeatedly walked past empty classrooms and children’s art that decorated the walls, reminders of what I thought we were missing that day. I watched my wife smile as she began to sweat in the mounting heat and I was grateful she was there with me, even if she wouldn’t receive the same payoff I do when someone I’ve helped smiles at me and says “Thank you.” Another time, I thought, and grabbed another bulky box.
It was on our second trip to the storage unit when something unexpected happened. As we were unloading the boxes from the SUV and stacking them onto the rolling cart, we noticed for the first time what was within the boxes. “Gifts for Boys,” “Gifts for Girls,” “Board Games,” and the like, read the labels on the boxes. Suddenly we weren’t just shuttling office supplies from Point A to Point B; we were moving items intended for the children I had hoped we would encounter in the first place.
That was when the teacher and the mother in Jill took charge of the situation. The boxes I had heretofore placed on the storage shelves in random fashion were turned, labels facing outward, and grouped together according to their contents. In the case of boxes on which the labels had been placed on the top, Jill found a marker and relabeled those boxes, the contents clearly marked on the sides. She wouldn’t let us leave until she was satisfied that the boxes were shelved as neatly and orderly as possible.
We drove home a few hours later, a little dirty and a lot sweaty, and glad to have helped Rainbow Village – especially Jill.
I learned an important lesson that morning. So often the reason we make our choices about how and where to serve others is because we hope to gain something from the experience, be it recognition, personal satisfaction, warm smiles or warm cookies. And so less frequently, I suspect, do we serve where our efforts are unsung, when there is no one to hug you when you’re through, and no witness to your good deed.
That morning Jill worked tirelessly and with determination beneath the dim glow of an overhead bulb in an otherwise dark storage unit with only me to cheer her on. And the truth is I was rolling my eyes about how long she was taking to get the job done.
When she finally finished, she stood back, smiled, and admired her work. “Now they will know where to find what they’re looking for,” she said proudly.
It was then that my wife taught me that sometimes you serve simply because something needs to be done. It was then that my wife taught me that serving is never about being rewarded, but instead it’s about giving, even if the receiver isn’t within arm’s reach, or may never know what you’ve done.