A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a training retreat at a local church presented by a non-profit organization in Orlando called The POLIS Institute. POLIS has a unique perspective on serving the distressed neighborhoods in Orlando and this training was on the curriculum they have developed through extensive research. Dignity Serves, as it has come to be named, turns what churches and non-profits for decades have been calling “serving” completely upside down and offers a new and fresh perspective that promotes a dignified interdependence, a co-existence of two very different communities who come to recognize and develop what assets lie not only in the community who desires to serve but also within the community they are actually serving. What a novel idea! The people in distressed neighborhoods actually have resources, gifts and talents that could be developed into actually creating solutions for the problems the serving community has come to “fix”! The entire weekend was enlightening and if you live in Orlando I highly encourage you to check out POLIS and all that they are doing for the 100 distressed neighborhoods in the greater city of Orlando alone.
But that’s not what this post is solely about. POLIS is housed in one of those 100 distressed neighborhoods, in a local trailer park in between two major highways in downtown Orlando. At this particular training, four of the residents of that trailer park were in attendance. To say their input and stories had impact is an understatement. There was one particular instance where one of the residents was describing all of the many good, great and godly organizations that have come to “serve” in the trailer park. One ministry in general always brought crates upon crates of snack sized boxes of raisins. They went around the trailer park delivering these raisins to each individual trailer. The residents graciously accepted the gift, not wanting to seem ungrateful or rude but inwardly were all saying to themselves, “But I don’t want your raisins.”
This statement struck a chord with our group and in many ways would become the mantra of our weekend. Even now, two weeks later I hear that story on repeat in my head. It seems to blare a little louder when I begin an act of service for someone recently. Even as I serve my husband with a little gift or my friends with a meal or encouraging text I find myself thinking, “Am I trying to give them raisins right now? Sure, raisins are nutritious and to many people a delicious, healthy snack (although I prefer mine covered in chocolate and coming from a yellow Raisinette package). In and of itself, a raisin is an adequate gift. But raisins weren’t what that trailer park needed to sustain itself as a community. Raisins weren’t going to buy their kids school supplies or teach anyone to use a computer or how to find a job. So I find myself asking myself as I serve those around me, “Is this what this person needs to feel sustained right now?” Or am I offering them something that is well meaning and intended but really only making me feel better and causing them to stand there holding a box of raisins and thinking, “But, Reagan, I don’t want your raisins.”
And just by thinking that little sentence all the way through I find myself making small adjustments to how I serve those around me and while my acts of service may not be what I initially intended them to be, I hope that I am doing a better job at not handing out raisins to people who are in need of so much more from me.