Soon after we were married, my wife and I started attending the Spanish-speaking congregation of our church in north San Diego County. We had learned Spanish as missionaries in Peru and Ecuador. We served the Spanish-speaking community in that area for a few years until we moved to Escondido, California, when we closed down our Simutron venture. More recently, we attended the Spanish-speaking congregation of our church in south Orange County, California, for four years as local missionaries after our children were grown. We enjoyed the warm hearts of these sincere, humble, hardworking individuals.
Because of the acute needs of this community, we found many opportunities to serve. We provided pro bono legal services, helped with transportation, arranged medical care, provided counseling, and set up and managed clothing drives and Christmas gifts for the needy. Through this service, we had the opportunity to meet many phenomenal people. One of them was Herman Brown. He refers to himself as God’s spoon, which He uses to feed the hungry. Every day he rises early and works all day for free, locating food and necessities to stock several pantries and homeless shelters in the area. Over the decades, he has developed relationships with many retail chains that donate their soon-to-expire inventory and with produce suppliers who give him all their small and imperfect food. Every week he fills up one or more large rented trucks with avocados that are too small to be sold to grocery stores, day-old bread, canned goods, and hundreds of leftover turkeys after Thanksgiving, which he delivers to various food dispensaries and shelters.
Herman introduced me to several other wonderful Christians who tirelessly follow the Savior’s admonition to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. One of these individuals used to be a criminal and was homeless until the Lord changed his life. Now, every Saturday morning, he brings portable showers on a large trailer to a homeless encampment, along with tables and chairs for homeless people to sit at while they eat breakfast prepared by a few different ministries. He also brings a sound system with a microphone, plays music, and allows people to share stories of how God changed their lives. I found it fulfilling to help serve food to the homeless once or twice a month for a year or so until the government closed down that particular homeless encampment and moved it into an abandoned bus depot where they didn’t allow this Christian service to continue.
During this time, I got to know several of the regulars and hear their life stories. It was interesting to develop a personal connection with individuals who had addiction problems, mental health issues, and physical and emotional challenges. I often thought that John Bradford was correct when he said, “There, but for the grace of God go I.” One morning my heart nearly broke when I saw a scared young mother with her three small children show up for a free meal. She was recently divorced and had just been evicted from their home. I was glad when one of the ministers noticed her and took her under his wing to help her. She certainly didn’t belong on the street, and he and a few other persons serving that morning stepped up to help her out. I was pleased that I never saw her again at the encampment.
Many persons have told my wife and me that we performed a great service when we attended the Spanish speaking congregation. However, even though there are many needs, and we helped with some of them, we were blessed much more than those we helped. During this time, I experienced and internalized the truth that we grow to love those we serve. We both developed bonds of love with several precious individuals which time and space cannot break.
We grow to love those we serve and sacrifice for. When we serve others, it is as if we invest part of ourselves in them, which creates a connection with them or a bridge that enables our love for each other to flow and grow. That is why God usually enlists us to help others, one person at a time. Unlike government programs which take taxpayers’ money out of their paychecks, creating resentment, and whose recipients often develop an entitlement mentality, charitable service performed face to face forms a personal connection so that love flows, and both the giver and the receiver are edified together.
We connect with God as we connect with others. I have learned that building and maintaining personal relationships are among of the most important things in life. We feel God’s love as we share love on earth. It seems that when we share love, it doesn’t get depleted but grows instead. This does not take place with large numbers of superficial friends on social media but in close one-on-one personal relationships that sometimes get messy because we are all very human with many flaws. Strong bonds of love are forged in the furnace of adversity where we make sacrifices for each other, forgive hurts, look for the good in the other person and strive to support them in their weakness, and inspire each other to hang on and not give up. Love, the most precious thing in eternity, comes at a price: ourselves. The more love we want, the more we are required to give, until our union with the other person is complete, and our mutual love has fused an eternal bond that cannot be broken. These personal intimate relationships are where we gain a glimpse of the Divine in others and where we connect with the glory, joy, and power of God.
We are all familiar with the concept that even though God watches over us, He usually uses another person to meets our needs. The essence of living the gospel is service. Why is that? It is because God wants the person providing the service to grow in love for those they serve. Our growth is the main purpose for providing service. Yes, we do some good, but the greater purpose of service is that it helps us develop our capacity to love, which in turns brings us into greater unity with God. This is an integral part of God’s eternal plan for our personal exaltation and eternal joy.
It, however, is not healthy to run faster than we are able. I learned a great principle from my wife. Her physical capacity to perform a lot of tasks is limited because of her delicate health and asthma while, on the other hand, I have been blessed with good health and high energy. Earlier in our marriage, this dynamic would sometimes frustrate and even irritate me. But over the years, I have observed that while I am scurrying around doing all sorts of things, Jean identifies and focuses on the most important thing to do at that moment and is able to accomplish much substantive good. Jean seeks the Lord’s help to know what she should do. This is the key to successful service. Seeking the Lord’s help allows his Spirit to 1) open our eyes to see the needs around us and 2) to magnify our efforts.
God often puts people in our path so that we can serve them. The Spirit helps us recognize these opportunities. The Spirit also helps us maintain balance in our life as we serve and learn how and to what extent we should serve someone else. When we are guided by the Spirit, we can feel the peace that comes from the assurance of knowing that we are doing the Lord’s will, even when we see that some things still are not done.
I have found that my finest efforts by themselves are at best feeble, but God can magnify my feeble efforts to touch and change lives. In order for this to happen, I must invite the Lord’s spirit to guide my actions and magnify them so that I can actually do some good. In this process, I develop more love for others and draw closer to God.
As we strive to recognize and follow the Spirit that leads us to serve others, we are blessed with “the fruits of the Spirit [which are] love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith” (Gal 5:22).