It was a test case for unmet expectations. This group had come to Croatia, sacrificing their time and their own resources to volunteer at the refugee center. Of course they had expectations of what they’d be doing, who they’d be helping. In the face of uncertain events, we almost always create some idea for ourselves of what might happen, just to help us deal with the uncertainty. Rarely do we talk about these kinds of expectations… so they hold great power over us. And rarely does reality actually match our expectations.
I didn’t know this group ahead of time, so I didn’t get to ask them about their expectations. But I watched as they dealt with the differences in their expectations and their reality. The reality was chaotic – there was a lot of waiting, a lot of changed plans, a lot of previously unthought-of ways of serving. But as an outsider I watched as they adapted themselves – sometimes with frustration, but finally with joy – to doing the unexpected things that God had for them to do.
To be honest, these folks from Virginia were primed for a unique opportunity. Most everyone at the center – police, Red Cross, translators – had a specific job to do, and it was easy for them to run back and forth doing the things they perceived were important… sometimes missing deeper human needs that a simple bag of food wouldn’t address. These people came with open eyes and ears and were able to see – and meet – the needs others were missing.
A gentle touch for mothers, frightened for their children’s safety.
A smile for people shuffling nervously between one country and another.
A helping hand to gather all the little packets and clothes they’d been given.
An openness to answer questions, giving signals and waves when they didn’t speak the language.
A thanks and a cup of coffee for policewomen and -men, always on edge, wondering how to respond if things get out of hand.
A chance to hear and bless the story of volunteers from all over the world.
So often we run from place to place, heedless of the things that happen around us. But when we are PRESENT, when we open our eyes and hearts to what is really needed around us, we’re in a unique place to help some people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. If you want to serve somewhere, but you don’t know where to start, don’t be afraid to “just stand there.” Be courageous and just go in with open eyes and heart. Chances are you’ll see someone who needs a human touch, or just a hand. And God will open doors for you to serve in ways that probably weren’t in your range of expectations.
Try it out. See what happens. Be amazed.