A week ago, I was part of a team that drove to Houston to help with the flood relief efforts. Let me begin with recognizing Cypress United Methodist Church in Cypress, TX (northwest Houston), who showed us incredible hospitality. Their pastors, staff, and the church have committed a tremendous amount of resources in hosting teams, reaching out, monitoring projects in homes, and assisting their community. While other churches and organizations in the area have stepped away from the flood relief as “old news”, this church has a growing list of over 200 individuals who still need assistance in recovering their homes.
At devotions one of the first nights, the team leader asked a question he too struggles with – why do you volunteer, why do you help? It prompted me to reflect on the reasons to help and my own motivations to drive 32 hours in a car and spend a week on my knees putting up sheetrock.
First, as someone who has been in fundraising a long time, I’ve come to realize that some people simply aren’t givers. With funds or time or talents. There are myriad reasons but they include age, financial status, life/health situations, personality/background, but most often I believe it’s because they’ve not been extended opportunities where they could make an impact.
As I was preparing for this trip, I had a nudge to ask a friend to come along. He had never gone on a trip like this and he said yes. Responding to my prod, I believe, is God working through us, but that’s a blog for another day. Why hadn’t my friend gone on a trip like this before? At least one reason is simply because no one had asked.
Second, I believe the reasons for helping are complex. When I asked the team to put in writing why they volunteered, here’s a sampling of their responses:
- To serve others in need.
- First, to glorify & honor with thanksgiving to God. Second, to honor my family & my church with a thankful heart.
- The reason I volunteer is because I feel like I have been abundantly blessed by God and want to give back to show that I appreciate it. Also, I have had people come to my rescue when I needed it the most.
- It blesses me to listen and watch others working together for good. Because God has given me so much in my life, it makes me want to go again. Who knows what the Holy Spirit will do next?
- I enjoy sharing my time and talents with others. The more I volunteer, the more drawn I feel toward volunteering again.
- Volunteering jump-starts my spiritual journey. A palpable sense of the Holy Spirit is with me when I am freely giving my time and talents to those in need. When a group of volunteers come together with a compassionate common purpose, the product of their efforts greatly exceeds the sum of their individual contributions. One cannot really appreciate this without experiencing it firsthand.
- Part of what makes it hard is the unexplainable feeling you get when you make someone happy. I guess the somewhat explainable part is that I have been blessed physically, mentally, and financially. The unexplainable part is how can I be so happy while others are suffering?
My own reasons can be found in these responses too. I do feel I’ve been blessed and have the ability to help. I enjoy spending time with others, working toward a common goal. I feel good when I help and sometimes feel guilty for feeling that way. The more I volunteer, the more I volunteer. It helps me in my spiritual journey and energizes me.
But I will say, for me, it comes down to these three things. First, I’ve had some formative experiences. After my junior year of high school, I went to Ghana as an exchange student for three months. Truly changed the trajectory of my thinking.
Next, like all of you, I get compassion fatigue. In our non-stop news cycle, we are bombarded with tragedy and we feel as if we just can’t deal with one more disaster. Trips like this put a face to the calamity. There are real people, facing real issues, many without the ability or capacity to change their situation. It personalizes the circumstances when a family stands in front of you, amidst their mess.
Finally, the person putting the team together —– asked me to come.
So, why do you help?