What I've Learned as a Volunteer

Hang around the headquarters for G.O.D. Int’l in Tennessee, for not long at all, and you’ll see countless opportunities for people to volunteer their time, gifts, skills, and often just their persons, everyday. As a volunteer and participant with this organization for eight years, I’ve learned that not only does volunteering help those I volunteer for, but also me, the one who volunteers to help. It’s mutual benefit at its best.

Usually, volunteers think they have the advantage; they can come and go as they please, with little investment other than the time it took them to complete the task they volunteered for. But around here, volunteers find themselves experiencing the advantage of those they volunteer for, realizing the dedication and character it’s taken for them to give themselves over to a task that requires their energies everyday. It’s one thing to do something now and again, as a volunteer. But it’s another thing to do something occupationally, day in and day out, for the benefit of others, to always be the one working on the other side of every complicated scenario, every no-show volunteer. Here’s some examples of ways volunteering has benefited me, the volunteer.

Volunteering with Nyumba Cafe doesn't only include food preparation for our community meals, but also involvement in the local farmer's market. Getting Hopewell Gardens produce to the local farmer's market was a main responsibility of Bennecker, Nyumba Kitchen manager, this summer.

With Nyumba. I’ve been volunteering in Nyumba Cafe, the Institute for G.O.D. International’s cafeteria, since it opened in 2006. I’ve spent countless shifts chopping, cooking, baking, setting up, serving, stocking, and cleaning up meals for our students and staff. I’ve learned invaluable lessons in preparing meals for large groups, all the while enjoying conversations in the kitchen with my friends. But more than anything, I’ve gotten the opportunity to watch my friend Breann Bennecker go from a Nyumba volunteer to the Nyumba manager, taking on a task much bigger than a few hours a week, now encompasses all of her workdays, and the majority of her weekends. She is relentless in her commitment to run the kitchen well, even taking on new tasks, like collaborating with our community garden to sell produce at local farmers markets. She’s dedicated to making her volunteers feel appreciated and ensuring that they enjoy their work environment while volunteering. She’s part of the reason I keep volunteering in Nyumba, because I believe in Breann and the people she helps through her job, which is truly a service.

Seth Davis not only spearheads Hopewell Gardens, but also manages the 40 plus volunteers who help him in the garden each week. Here, two Institute students help Davis dig beds.

With gardening. At one point, a one-hour shift in our community was made mandatory for all single students at the Institute. And I appreciated it, because honestly, I wasn’t doing them otherwise. But something about getting up early and joining Seth Davis, Hopewell Gardens Director, in the garden for an hour or two of dirt, water, plants, music, and conversation was incredibly inspiring. I felt great about starting a new day, close to the ground, close to my friends, close to the Lord. I’m no longer single, but I still do a garden shift every week. Why? Yes, I do enjoy it, especially once I get there, but mostly because I believe in Seth and the people he helps through his job, which is truly a service.

With childcare. When it comes to watching children, I’ve identified two kinds of people. Those who thrive in such an environment, and those who survive. Thrivers and survivors. I, for one, am a survivor. I love children, but usually one at a time. Still, I sign up for a childcare shift every semester, because I know it’s helping the children’s parents get some much needed work hours in. I believe in their parents, and I believe in those who thrive in childcare, and I’m happy to help them out. What they don’t realize, or maybe they do, is that I need their kids just as much as they need me to watch them. They help me develop patience, creativity, and teaching skills. I’m beyond thankful for this volunteer opportunity, because I believe in these parents and the people they help through their jobs, which are truly services.

Childcare allows Heather Munoz, certified professional midwife, to teach in our Childbirth Education Program. Buchanan, alongside other volunteers, work in the childcare facility, offering care for Munoz' twin boys.

With housekeeping. Perhaps the least glorious volunteer opportunity, janitorial work. Usually not fun, but must be done. I’ve been helping clean our headquarters since we acquired them four years ago. When I started, I remember wondering how long I’d have to do it. I’m still doing it, year round. Why? For a couple of reasons, but mostly because the people whose offices I clean each week are my friends, and I believe in them and the people they help through their jobs, which are truly services.

When you aim to, like Jesus, do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, in humility regarding others as better than yourselves, and looking not to your own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4), you find yourself giving your energies, not to tasks, but to people. Volunteering in this community has taught me how to share the mind of Christ. I don’t have to spend all my time on ‘my thing,’ what I want to do to contribute to the kingdom of God. I get to spend my time contributing to Breann’s thing, and Seth’s thing, and the parents’ thing, and those with full time responsibilities’ thing, and we’re all better, including those we serve, for such a cooperation.