Sometimes, just showing up is enough
I had never met a chain-smoking missionary until I shook the tobacco-stained hand of Michael Bonderer. Michael is the Country Director for the “Fuller Center for Housing” and “Homes from the Heart” in El Salvador. As the late Millard Fuller described him, “He is quite the character.” Indeed.
But I found Michael to be more than just a colorful character. He is the stunning paradox of saint and sinner. At once he is a nicotine-addicted, four-letter-word-dropping, endless-coffee-drinking, recovering-alcoholic; and he is a wise sage, a deeply committed follower of Jesus, a spiritual practitioner who lives to put roofs over the heads of the poor and forgotten.
Michael is aged, fragile and weak, and yet after cancer, a heart attack, a quadruple bypass surgery, a stroke, and two-packs-a-day, he’s still not dead. He doesn’t even feel bad! And in true enigmatic form, he says he has very little faith, sometimes none at all; yet the trajectory of his life says otherwise.
After a week with him in Central America mixing concrete and building houses I asked him what his work there needed, outside of money, to keep building homes. He flicked ashes into a coconut ash tray and passionately replied, “People in the church feel like they need permission to do anything good, or they feel they need to be experts.
“But you don’t have to know anything about anything to change the world. The people who just show up are the game changers. That’s what we need: People ready and willing to serve, who will just show up.”
This was true of the construction team of which I was a part. Only one of us was a professional builder. The rest worked in marketing or we were preachers, students, paramedics, pilots, dentists, or salespersons. We didn’t know how to build a bird house, much less a concrete-formed-earthquake-resistant home. Yet, our knowledge was not required. We were able to take directions—even in a language we did not speak—and we did as we were told. The result was magnificent for everyone involved.
Truly, you don’t have to know anything about anything to change the world. Just show up ready to sweat, ready to bleed a little, ready to learn, and God knows what could happen. And showing up is not just for economically-depressed foreign countries or for NGOs in developing nations. It is right here and now, right where you live.
Every night this week, people from all walks of life volunteer to staff soup kitchens or deliver food to the poor. These people aren’t trained in the culinary arts; they don’t have degrees in public policy or hold licenses as Clinical Social Workers. They just show up to help, love, and to serve.
In church dining halls and in community rooms all around the world, Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet every day to weed through the recovery process. These meetings are filled with people who have no formal training in addiction recovery, nor do many of them know how to professionally counsel someone else.
All they know is what it is like to be an addict. All they know is that they must show up—for themselves, for their loved ones, and for the other people in that room – because sometimes just showing up is enough.
As you read this, work is being done by homeless coalitions, Habitat for Humanity affiliates, grass root charities, Sunday School classes, child sponsorship programs, missions and relief organizations in most every community in the world.
Every one of these groups has a list of needs as long as your leg, but every one of them will say the same thing: “We can do more with someone who has an open heart and a serving spirit than all the financial resources in the world.”
Everywhere good stuff is going on, everywhere Christ’s witness is being held out to a community, it’s not because some group has it all figured out. It is because someone showed up and won’t leave till the job is done. Chain-smoking or not, that is enough.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.