Jenn Reichert Reflects on Leading Youth in service, in imitation of Jesus
During the past two weeks of SLAM (Students Living A Mission), I had several opportunities to serve through being a service project leader at a local, low-income elderly high rise, leading worship, and leading student small groups. I had a front row seat to watch the progression of how God used each element of the week to speak, soften, and mold the hearts of youth. They were challenged by their times in Bible study to value what God values (people!) and to serve them with humility.
One morning at Chippington Towers, several SLAM students and I walked alongside the Second Harvest food delivery line, offering to help with selecting and carrying the residents’ groceries. We also offered free cleaning services. Alice, a beautiful woman in her eighties, was one of the residents who greatly impacted the teens from both weeks. When I first met her she told me, “Everyone thinks us old people are stupid and don’t know anything. But we aren’t. We have a lot to share and wisdom to give.” I replied, “Yes you do! Tell us, Alice!” She told us story after story of her 37 years as a nurse’s aid at Vanderbilt Hospital, bathing terminally ill children. The teens were hesitant at first, not knowing how to relate to the elderly. They barely spoke, nor did they look into her eyes. I kept encouraging them to listen closely, and after a while, they began asking questions and prompting her to tell more stories.
The first week, Alice was reluctant to let us in her house to help clean, but this week she was bolder and said, “I have some dusting and vacuuming I can’t reach. Do you have time to help me?” We enthusiastically replied, “Yes, we’d love to help!” Upon entering her small apartment, roughly 300 sq ft., we could see that Alice worked hard to keep her space as neat as possible. Her walker alone, however, took up half her living room, so it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to keep clutter to a minimum.
Our faces were inches from the floor, as we dusted and wiped away the dirt and grime from her dining room table’s legs and feet. As we were vacuuming and cleaning all the places that Alice could not possibly reach, I whispered to the girls who were on the floor with me, “Right now, this moment, you are acting like Jesus and doing what he would do.” Later, I reflected on this more and thought about how Jesus does this for us. He goes low, lays down his life, gets to the dirt and grime that we can’t reach or take care of ourselves, and he starts cleaning. We freely receive his cleansing, for our lives, our wounds, our sins, our brokenness… for our everything. Then in turn, with clean hands and pure hearts, we can offer this same kindness to others and help them clean.
I saw the SLAM students go from being closed, timid and quiet, to having softer and more open hearts, making connections, and being able to love, appreciate, and value those who were different from them. As they met the physical needs of others, their hearts were engaged in worship and small group times as well. Many had tears rolling down their faces by the end of the week, their eyes having been opened to see the weak and vulnerable all around them. The love of God was poured into their hearts and in turn, they had the opportunity to pour out their lives for others.