When I arrived as a freshman at Messiah College and endured my first preseason for the soccer team, I couldn’t help but notice this guy Peter Greer. First of all, he was one of the nicest people I had ever met, even to me, an underclassman. Second of all, and I know this goes against what I just said, I wanted to punch him in the face – no matter how many hills or sprints or conditioning drills our coach threw at us, Peter was one of those in the background yelling, “C’mon coach! Is this all you’ve got for us? You can do better than this! We can run all day!”
While I haven’t seen Peter for many years, I just finished reading his book “The Poor Will Be Glad” , and I can tell that little has changed. Peter is still one of the kindest people on the planet, and he is still working hard to motivate those around him to get better, stronger and more effective. I think I must have matured at least a little since then, though, because I don’t want to hit him anymore.
The following is a guest post, written by my friend Peter Greer:
In 2002, my wife and I were sent to help Congolese refugees displaced by the eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo. There I witnessed catastrophic devastation: over 400,000 people were fleeing from homes that had collapsed. Amid the destruction, I thought I would find camaraderie and a spirit of service among the many NGOs that had come to serve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Surprisingly, I was wrong.
In the refugee camp, it had been rumored that a camera crew was going to highlight a story of generosity: individuals in the U.S. had donated blankets to the refugees, and the network would feature the NGOs distributing them. Everyone wanted the news to feature them, handing out blankets.
My wife and I had blankets to give but were not allowed to give them out. Larger NGOs wouldn’t allow our smaller operation to hand out blankets if their shipments had not yet arrived. There I was, among the very people and organizations supposed to help those in need, and they were more concerned about showcasing their organizations than helping the poor. The camera crew never came, and I will never forget how disgusted I felt by the hypocrisy of the ordeal – I also will never forget how I eventually recognized the same hypocrisy in my own heart.
When we were finally allowed to hand out our blankets, a photographer did arrive. Up on a platform, I bestowed my blankets as people walked orderly through a line. The orchestration was almost perfect – we had roped off lines like at an amusement park – and I was the main attraction. We had lists of the families and a system to ensure that each family received their allotted amount. I was on the front lines of personally handing out blankets and helping families that had lost almost everything. Noble cause. Noble mission. Noble actions of a 25-year-old relief worker. A friend was snapping pictures, and I smiled wide for the camera as I did God’s work.
A few weeks later I saw the pictures. I trashed them. I wanted to vomit. It was apparent from that smile that I cared more about my smile for the camera—than serving the poor. I was no better than the NGOs I despised.
All my life I had thought I had been on the “right road”; I had maintained a clean record, a sparkling image – but it wasn’t enough. Even if I was a relief worker in Africa, it meant nothing. If my willingness to serve did not come from the love of God, than it really was empty:
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
As I saw those pictures, I began to grasp the truth of the scripture, without the love of God motivating me, my work was in vain, and it became another means to glorify myself.
I have recently been encouraged by the evangelical Christian community’s new focus on justice, poverty alleviation and the growing awareness of the needs around the world, but I do worry that if we make our primary focus service instead of Christ, we will find our service is empty. I know I found it true in my own life. It is only out of a deep-rooted understanding of our Father’s love, realizing that “we love because he first loved us,” that we can truly roll up our sleeves and serve (1 John 4:19).