Give to those in need and become the one in need

Culture, Featured

I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’…

I can still remember the day when my good friend sat down with me in a Starbucks in Atlanta and said, “I want you to come back to Bosnia with me.” He was going there to work with the organization that I currently work for, and he was overtly recruiting me to with him. I had lived in Bosnia for a short time right after college, a period during which many surely thought I was sowing my wild oats. I’d get the travel bug out of my system soon and come back and settle down.

But as soon as I heard “come back to Bosnia”, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt a burning desire to go back and help build something meaningful. We mulled the decision over for about a year, but my wife and I eventually decided to go.

Learning a new world

The U.S. can be very different from the rest of the world. Living in Eastern Europe has been an adventure in adjusting to new cultural norms. But somewhere in the process of acquiring a new language and learning new customs, people tend to change. We’ll always be foreigners, but we’re no longer the same people that left the U.S. in 2010.

Yes, there are new habits and tastes that have developed, but most important is the new awareness that has resulted from our time overseas — awareness of ourselves that we would not have had, had we stayed home.

I’ve learned how to survive — quite well — without all the creature comforts available back home. My children speak a different language fluently. speak a different language. I’ve learned organizational skills I never would have learned had I stayed in my old job. And the young people I have worked with have given me more than I’ve ever given them.

The last shall be first.

In this upside-down world in which we live, I think the principle arises that might not have been as visible before. When one ventures out to help others, often the giver benefits more than the receiver — but in ways that were unanticipated before. The one who helps might gather up clothes to donate to the needy, but in that process they gain an understanding of the things that people truly need. Or, they gain lifelong friends in the process of teaching an English class. Building a staircase might serve a temporal need, but the knowledge and skills gained in the process are valuable for a lifetime.

In the end, the givers become the receivers, the first become last, and those who give help discover just how needy they are.

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