I have been leading mission/work/service learning trips with high school students and adults for more than 30 years to both Appalachia and Nicaragua. We have built homes and repaired roofs and replaced floors. We have made friends in communities very different from the ones in which we lived. And, we have learned a great deal…
About ourselves and our world.
About poverty and hope.
And about the resiliency of the human spirit.
When I first began leading these trips my goal was to help those who were less fortunate than myself. I quickly began to realize I received far more from those I was there to help than I felt I gave. I then began to think less about “helping” and more about partnership. My/our standing alongside another to reach a common goal. But lately that way of thinking and talking about what I was doing also fell short of what was experiencing. In its place I found myself thinking and talking about neighbors and neighborhoods. Living alongside not just to reach a goal, but in all we do and in all the choices we make.
I have come to believe that the most important religious question we can ask and do our best to answer is the age old question “Who is my neighbor?” I have come to realize that my neighborhood not only stretches down the street and around the corner, but also to the hollers of Appalachia and to the dirt roads of rural Nicaragua and beyond.