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Believe in Good: It’s not about me


I’ll never forget the first time I understood what it means to be Christian, or for that matter, any kind of faith.

It had been a blistering summer and another hot morning dawned in my rapidly-evaporating high school break. I yearned to spend one more lazy day at the spring-fed public pool, relaxing with friends.

But that day my church youth group was slated to perform repairs at an old house in the poor part of our Texas town. It was a big multi-church effort to converge on an entire block of run-down houses occupied mostly by elderly folks.

I groused at my parents, at my youth director, and among my friends in the group. Didn’t we have better things to do than fix up the broken-down place of a total stranger?

We arrived at our assigned house and were shocked to find raw sewage pooling beneath the pier-and-beam structure, a yard full of waist-deep grass and weeds, a front door completely off its hinges, siding that had not held paint in years, and an inoperable bathtub, stove and refrigerator.

The home had no air-conditioning. In the dirt driveway a rusty Dodge squatted on four flats under a decade-thick blanket of dirt and debris.

The homeowner was a woman in her 80s, legally blind and with many other diabetes-related ailments. She spent most days in a recliner on her front porch – where a light breeze could be caught – and told us how the neighborhood had once been a proud place.

Her children had long-since moved away and rarely visited, her husband had died years before with no pension, and her mounting health-care bills often left her choosing between eating and taking medication.

She was also one of the nicest folks I’d ever met, reminding me of my own cheerful grandmother, whom I shuddered to imagine living in such squalor. This lovely woman’s life was a world away from my reality of never worrying about going to bed hungry, or having clean clothes, or a working toilet.

Our group of about 20 teens and a dozen adults worked that day as if possessed. We chipped paint, caulked and repainted. We cut and hauled away brush. We replaced drywall. We installed new appliances, plumbing and fixtures, and a secure door. We added new window-unit air conditioners. We towed away the long-dead Dodge.

The day was long, hot and exhausting. Well after dark we gathered up the last of our tools and the owner toured the place, peering through failing eyes and with outstretched arms to feel what we had done.

She smiled and said, “I need to see you – all of you.” We lined up one by one for her to gently touch our tired grimy faces with her creased hands. With each caress she whispered, “Bless you, child.” It felt like the hands of God.

Before that moment I was certain I knew full well what it meant to be a person of faith. Being a Christian meant I was taken care of in the big scheme of things. It meant God loved me in a way that met my needs. It meant I was promised a good life. Having faith was all about what God could do for me.

That day I learned how utterly selfish and immature I’d been; that my faith had been upside-down and focused inwardly. I discovered that any faith I had wasn’t about me. It was about others, and what I could do for them.

It wasn’t the last time I understood what it means to be a Christian, or for that matter, any kind of faith. I’m still on that learning curve. It was simply the first time I began to grasp that to be fully human is to live beyond yourself.

The Rev. David Green is pastor of Salem United Church of Christ in Doylestown. He can be found there Sundays at 10 a.m. and – this summer - Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., and any time at