Doing nothing is no longer an option
Last Friday afternoon, sixteen vehicles, filled with 117 people, pulled into the St. Paul parking lot after a week of serving and learning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had the joy of watching parents and grandparents greet their teenagers as they unloaded duffle bags and sleeping bags.
At the conclusion of these summer trips, we have a tradition of inviting kids and their families to step inside once everyone arrives back at church to share a few stories from their week. They’re asked to talk a bit about new people they met, where they served throughout the week, or something that surprised them along the way. And I got to eavesdrop on a few conversations happening around the room.
One teenager told her mom about Albert, the homeowner of a property we worked at. Albert and his wife both are in failing health, with minimal financial resources, and unable to care for a dilapidated garage behind their house. So our St. Paul crew helped safely deconstruct the structure so Albert and Penny would no longer face the danger of eviction or hefty fines from the city.
Another student talked to his parents about spending a morning at a local nursing home. Playing BINGO doesn’t sound particularly consequential, except that this young man was struck by hearing the stories of veterans and realized that the simple act of listening was an incredible gift to these elderly residents.
It wasn’t just the daily service projects that made an impact on each of us. One young woman talked about an evening we spent at a local park where Latin musicians performed at the band shell and our predominantly Caucasian group was the racial minority. She had quickly noticed what it felt like to feel like a bit of an outsider and wondered how she might be more welcoming to others in her daily life.
Throughout the trip, the entirety of our group had these sorts of experiences. Seeing a person’s need and using our individual, God-given talents to offer hope. Or noticing systems in place that encourage racism or poverty and wondering how we can work against such inequities.
For each of us, such a trip made these stories personal. Racism or violence or prejudice isn’t just some sort of evil that happens somewhere in our world. We witnessed it happening to the people right in front of us. And being silent or oblivious simply wasn’t possible.
Our trip centered around a quote from Austin Channing Brown’s enlightening book I’m Still Here, where the author’s friend said these words, “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.”
Our work in Milwaukee was an incredible experience, but hopefully it was just the beginning. Our up-close and personal experiences of hardship and hunger and systemic racism tell us there’s much more work to be done. When we see the need of a neighbor. When we hear racist statements made that must be challenged. When we acknowledge that privilege and power can be used for good or for harm.
Whether in Milwaukee or the Quad Cities. Whether you are 15 or 85. God has called us to great and important work. And doing nothing is no longer an option for us.