“Come help us package and distribute four thousand pounds of sweet potatoes.” The appeal came last week via email from my church. Yes, it was for real. (More on the potatoes below.) Then, Sunday morning in Sunday school class I was given the “opportunity” to teach fifth graders on a Sunday this summer – just one Sunday. Always plenty of opportunities for volunteers.
Next, I came into the office Monday morning to discover that this is National Volunteer Week 2021. I trust you’ve been a volunteer.
I’m certain you’ve had countless opportunities to volunteer – coach kids’ athletics, serve on neighborhood watch, lead American Heritage Girls or Trail Life (for boys) groups, tackle community projects, teach Sunday school, chaperone student field trips, be a classroom mom, bring your tools for church clean-up day. The list could be endless.
Volunteers on a big scale
Volunteering not only serves others. It also blesses the server with a sense of accomplishment and personal fulfillment. Furthermore, volunteers can be the lifeblood of many great movements.
Take Samaritans’ Purse for instance and its phenomenal gospel outreach. Probably most readers are familiar with the ministry’s Operation Christmas Child (OCC), which distributes gift boxes around the world, largely with the help of volunteers. But would you have guessed they count on more than 270,000 in the U.S. and more than 570,000 worldwide?
“This has been a difficult year for many children around the world,” acknowledged Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “More than ever, they need to be reminded that God loves them, and He hasn’t forgotten them.”
How did such a massive undertaking survive during the past pandemic year?
It thrived. Despite quarantines, run-away lockdowns, violent and angry cultural confrontations, OCC gift boxes were delivered to 9.1 million children.
Four years ago, I had the blessing of volunteering with OCC to help distribute Christmas shoeboxes in Ecuador. As the children received their boxes, I got to sit on the floor and help a child remove his new toy from its hard plastic casing. I got to see the wonder in his eyes, the excitement in his smile. But wait. There’s more. Something even better than glittery gifts and giddy giggles.
It’s the gospel. Every child who receives an OCC gift box is also introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Graham summarizes: “I thank God for the incredible team of volunteers who serve year-round to share the hope of the gospel with children – one shoebox at a time.”
Volunteers in the neighborhood
That’s my point – the gospel. Every time we volunteer to serve someone else in any way, it becomes an opportunity to share the gospel.
I promised more about the potatoes. A church member was coordinating that outreach after a “gold mine” of sweet potatoes had been donated for the cause. Some 24 volunteers met at the church on Friday morning, filled bags of potatoes, and delivered them to a community where the COVID-19 pandemic had left its ugly impact on families and finances.
The coordinator already had established relationships in the community, so when families on the streets recognized her, they welcomed the whole team – for one reason in particular.
“Oh, look,” they said. “It’s the lady who prays for us.”
Yes, she always shares Jesus – one bag of sweet potatoes at a time.
Volunteering. What an opportunity!