Honouring God while serving people

November 20, 2013 | Artbeat | Number 23
By Louis Sawatsky | Special to Canadian Mennonite
Sharing a meal is an important part of the day program offered by the Mennonite Benevolent Society in Ukraine. Several of the clients are blind, and this is a safe outing for them and one of the only times they get to socialize and talk.

I once read a quote describing the purest form of ministry as "everything believers do to honour and glorify God. " That's a broad definition. It gives us opportunity to do ministry with every breath we take. But while honouring and glorifying God, ministry also benefits both the giver as well as the receiver.

My home congregation in Winnipeg, Bethel Mennonite Church, has provided administration and support to a Mennonite Voluntary Service Unit since 1984. Up to six young adults move into the Unit house each fall, making a commitment to volunteer their time and talents to Christian service at a selected charitable organization for a minimum of one year.

This opportunity stretches and challenges their faith. It is the first time that many of them have experienced the satisfaction of helping others without pay. It's also life-shaping. I have seen at least four people choose vocations in the church as a result.

God is honoured and glorified through their ministry, and our congregation is enriched by their presence and blessed by the opportunity we have to help them grow through our ministry.

Across the ocean, the Mennonite Benevolent Society (MBS) responds to the culture, perspectives and needs of people in Ukraine. Through MBS, where I have volunteered for 11 years, we have developed care programs for seniors, and, more recently, for children with special needs. Our ministry helps the most vulnerable people address common needs associated with poverty, illness, loneliness, helplessness and despair.

Clients in the seniors care ministry come from various faith backgrounds and understandings. Although the programs focus on their needs, they are also faith-nurturing. Discussions often turn to questions about belief. Bible study and faith discussions are regular features.

With our assistance, local professionals have organized programs to encourage interaction between children with special needs and other children and adults. Children with learning difficulties learn to speak in sentences. Some learn to read. With help, others can eventually integrate into regular schools. The attitude that children with special needs don't belong in wider society is gradually changing in Ukraine as they are equipped to live productive lives. It is satisfying to know that we helped empower local people to help themselves, and that we are encouraging changing attitudes toward those with different abilities.

Clients of MBS in Ukraine struggle to understand our motivation. Why are we helping them? It isn't enough to tell them that we are responding to Jesus or honouring the memory of our ancestors. Instead, they draw upon their understanding of God. They prayed and God responded. It is not about the ministry workers or MBS at all. It is about God and God's response to their prayers.

That's a humbling perspective, and it's one that honours and glorifies God. Let's make sure the ministries we engage in are not about us, but about honouring God. At the same time, we shouldn't feel guilty about personal satisfaction. After all, Jesus said, "[S]trive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33, NRSV).

Sharing a meal is an important part of the day program offered by the Mennonite Benevolent Society in Ukraine. Several of the clients are blind, and this is a safe outing for them and one of the only times they get to socialize and talk.

Louis Sawatsky

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