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My guess is many of you, like me, have a heart to use our skill as therapists to serve those around us whether in our clinic, our communities, or around the world. And that is awesome! We should be using all of our talents and abilities to serve those around us. My pastor once said that a life that counts turns much grace from God into much glory for God. And that is true; we all want our lives to count for something. Serving others is a way to give God glory and we do that out of the abundance of grace he has given us.
But there can be a hidden temptation to be a hero in our service or missions. Serving others everyday in our clinic, community, or in different countries on mission trips makes us feel good. It gives us a sense of worth, purpose, or like we mentioned above, a realization that our life counts. But if we are not careful we can easily get swept up into pride and begin to think that we are more important than those we are serving. We need to remember that, as Jean Johnson articulates in her book “We Are Not the Hero”, that we are not, in fact, the hero. So if we think of missions as a musical melody (my inner musician is coming out), I would like to suggest a two part harmony we would do well to remember for more beautiful missions and service: Dignity and Sustainability.
Let’s start with dignity. Dignity is defined as true honor or worth. That means that the people and patients we interact with in our clinic or on our mission trips, either locally or globally, are not just people in need of help or projects for improvement. They are actual, real people and patients. They are individuals who have inherent worth and dignity because they are made in God’s image. And they have been given gifts and talents by God just like you and me. Circumstances may have changed their life in some way but that doesn’t negate the stated truths above. I constantly need that humble reminder to keep me grounded.
So how can we make our missions more dignified? I think one way to foster dignity in service is by including the participants or individuals you are serving in the mission or service project rather than doing and providing everything for them. Maybe they could give an entry fee of a canned good in support of a local food bank. Or maybe you or your team could instruct your local helpers how to do certain service tasks to include them in the project. There is much creativity we can apply but we just need to remember that those we serve have something to give and have talents and abilities that can be utilized. That will maintain dignity.
The second part is sustainability. Sustainability is simply the continuation of something after initiation. This idea is also an important component to our service and missions projects. Again in her book “We Are Not the Hero”, Jean Johnson articulates that in our service and missions we need to think about how what we do on day one impacts day 10, day 100, and day 1000. In other words, think long-term. Think sustainable. Think: Are we cultivating independence with those we serve or creating dependence? We may come to the realization that what we are doing is not sustainable and therefore may not be as effective as previously thought.
When we serve on a mission, teaching information, training in certain skills, and educating can all lead to more effective and sustainable ministry and also maintain dignity for all involved. If this brief discussion resonates with you, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my book “Rehab the World” and pay close attention to the chapter on teaching and training. That chapter highlights the unique skills specific to physical therapy and rehab specialists and expounds in more detail how those skills can be utilized more effectively and sustainably on the mission field. You can also visit the “Resources” tab of this website for more information and materials for a more harmonious mission and serving ministry.
Anyway, I hope you walk away from today’s discussion with a refreshed perspective to think about your service and mission efforts. Maybe you are encouraged to continue. Great! Maybe you realize some things need to change. Excellent! But let’s all learn from this and move forward thinking about dignity and sustainability to continue to advance the kingdom of God.