This month is Native American Heritage Month, and I have been reflecting on the gifts I have received from Indigenous individuals and communities. Here is one memory: In the summer of 2016, I took a group of youth on a mission trip to Oaks Indian Mission, a part of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. It was a different trip than they had ever experienced. We didn’t serve by painting or building projects or food pantries (all good things!). Instead, we were asked to serve by listening. We listened to the stories of Cherokee elders. We learned how to weave baskets and play stickball. We sat and learned the history of the Cherokee Nation. We also learned about each other. The days slowed down, and we shared stories with one another and prayed for each other because of what we heard.
It was different from what they expected and some struggled with that difference. Shouldn’t we be doing something? Shouldn’t a mission trip be filled with service?
To serve, however, is to begin by listening.
We learn by listening. We grow by listening. We train our minds and our hearts to be open by listening. Listening to the words, the stories, the perspectives, and the needs of others. Listening to how and where God is speaking and working. Listening to our own needs. We learn to serve by listening and then responding to what we hear.
The desire of my youth to act was a good desire. In other mission trips, they learned from their interactions with people in line for a meal. They learned from the hard work of chopping vegetables for the community kitchen and from the people who taught them. They were transformed by speaking with people who were living on the streets. So many good opportunities.
But they still needed to listen in order to serve.
We, people of Hope, are called to listen. To listen with our whole hearts, our whole minds, and our whole lives. We are called to listen to the Spirit in our daily lives. We are called to listen to our neighbors - to their struggles, their fears, their hurts, their hopes - and trust that the Spirit will guide us in our listening. We are called to listen to voices we may not normally hear or who may not readily be available to us. Our group traveled to Oklahoma to listen, but the truth is, we never have to travel far to serve. But we may have to step out of our bubble, out of our neighborhood, out of our Facebook world, out of our congregation, to listen.
We are called to act from what we hear. We are called to listen in order to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
Who are voices that you are being called to serve by first listening? And as we listen, with the openness of the Spirit, we will learn how to respond and to act in loving service.