The Other 98%

I was curious, so I added up all the days I’ve spent outside the United States. The total comes to 199 (about 1.4% of my life). I suppose that may not be too impressive. I have friends whose Total Days Outside the U.S. is significantly higher.

Those 199 days, though, have had a highly disproportionate effect on who I am and how I see the world. Whether that was Brussels, Belgium, or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there’s something extraordinary about experiencing the sights and sounds and smells of unfamiliar places. All the clichés are true; it stretches and challenges us in ways that cannot be matched by staying put.

I have some good stories to tell about the places I’ve been. I’ve seen giraffes and elephants up close in the wild. I’ve mastered the subway system in Paris and eaten roasted sheep’s head in Kazakhstan. I was held hostage in Moscow by the Russian government, and I’ve seen a guy get pistol whipped in the streets of Istanbul.

(That bit about Moscow is mostly true. And by ‘mostly’ I mean ‘kind of.’)

In Tanzania, I was part of a medical team that set up a makeshift clinic at a refugee camp for Somalis. I helped run our little pharmacy, assisted the doctors, and administered dozens and dozens of vaccinations. That might sound glamorous or impressive. It wasn’t; I can assure you. At least it didn’t feel that way. I’m hopeful we were helpful, but really, it was the small, one-on-one interactions with individuals that I remember the most.

That’s because the best stories always involve people. Stepping off a train in Taraz, Kazakhstan, after 36 hours of travel, I met my host brother Kostya. It was late at night, pitch black, and I was exhausted. Kostya and his dad (strangers to me until that moment) greeted me, walked me to their car, and took me home to their apartment. Waiting up was Kostya’s mom and sister, ready with a massive spread of food. For the next half hour, they sat and watched me eat…Kazakh hospitality at its finest. By the end of the week, we were family.

And then there are folks that are particularly dear to me, people that are like family with an almost spiritual connection far deeper than it has any good reason to be. I think of Delmar or Roberto in Nicaragua or Arman and Angelika in Kazakhstan.

In all but a couple of these trips, I was traveling, yes, for the adventure and the thrill, but the main purpose was to serve…practically, spiritually, emotionally, medically or some combination. I’m filled with gratitude for these experiences, and I hope to have many, many more of them.

But…

What about the other 98% of my life, the 13,000+ days I’ve spent so far, living the normal, the mostly humdrum day-to-day? What have I done with that time? How have I served the people I’m around all the time?

Forster writes, “The ministry of small things is a daily service. Large tasks require great sacrifice for a moment; small things require constant sacrifice.” He goes on. “In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life.”

If we are to pursue a life of serving one another, the hardest part, I think, is that we need to learn to reset our default attitude from “self” to “other.” We give up our own wants, desires, and wishes that exist in any particular moment to the wants, desires, and wishes of those nearest to us. And that isn’t easy.

I’m learning there is absolutely no way we can be selfless, giving, or humble in isolation. It does not, it cannot, happen except at each moment of opportunity as we interact with others. Will I or will I not put their needs ahead of mine? Service is a discipline that can only be realized in real time.

The major events in my life – the service projects, the trips, the travel – have changed me. I treasure the people I’ve met. I hope God has been glorified, and I pray lives have been changed. But I’m not sure any of that matters compared to how I treat people in my life today…at my house, at work, at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, and on and on.

Here’s the trouble. The day-to-day stuff doesn’t make for great stories. No one writes a novel about doing the dishes or mowing the neighbor’s yard. Laying our life down usually isn’t dramatic or profound, but that doesn’t make it insignificant. God is honored and lives are changed (including our own). We get to be a part of stories that are unfolding around us.

I’m going to make this my prayer. “Father, in your wisdom, bring me someone today whom I can serve.”  I know God will answer it. I just need to be ready.

Write this way: Ask God to give you someone to serve today, and then ask him again tomorrow, and the next day. Don’t expect fireworks or trophies, but do expect to see God at work in you and through you.

About the Author:

Jeremy Neckers is the Administrative Pastor at Commonway. Originally from southwestern New York, Jeremy moved to Muncie in the early 90s with his parents and sister. After graduating from Delta High School, he earned a degree in chemistry and biology from Ball State in 2002. While Jeremy has been a part of Commonway since its inception, he spent a number of years as a middle school math & science teacher before joining the staff. He and his wife, Maggie, live in Muncie with their two daughters.

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