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Giving freely for the sake of all

I HAVE just returned from a visit with the United Church of the Solomon Islands where I had the remarkable experience of a church, indeed a country, that exists on the strength of volunteers.

I saw wonderful infrastructure and human services that exist because of volunteers. I had several conversations with a group of Rotary volunteers from Rockhampton and Bundaberg. I spent time with local men and women who spend hours serving their communities in a voluntary capacity.

I met with three remarkable women who were planning a five hour trip in an open boat to conduct a seven day workshop with a thousand village women.

In all these situations I see the sort of self giving that builds strong healthy communities.

Volunteering has always been the life blood of the Church. Today I often hear the lament that it is getting harder to get volunteers.

This gives us a chance to revisit our whole notion of volunteering. Why do we volunteer? What makes a person give up time and energy to serve in an organisation without the expectation of financial return?

Apart from the good that it does to those who receive help, it also strengthens a volunteer’s sense of self-worth. It gives you a good feeling.

It makes a person feel like part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In short, as is often stated by those who volunteer, “I receive far more than I give”.

This is wonderful and ensures that volunteering will continue and will grow. However it also presents the danger that volunteering can become selfish and ignore the deeper, more long-term needs of those we seek to help.

When we volunteer we can feel that the organisation owes us something. We can feel as though we deserve some special privilege. We can feel resentful if we are corrected or told that we are not needed in a particular situation.

We can become convinced that we know best what is needed by those we seek to serve, thus disempowering the person.

It is easy to fall into the mistake of thinking that the poor should accept anything we do, because we mean well.

Many community organisations have received donations of goods that are not suitable or useful. However any suggestion that they should be disposed of brings an outcry.

Sometimes our passion to help has prevented others from learning new skills or participating in their own growth and development.

All of us who volunteer need to be careful to listen to those we serve and learn from them about what help they would like and need from us.

In giving a person or comm-unity that sort of respect, we empower them, build their sense of self-worth and their capacity to feel good about themselves.

I believe that it would help all of us who seek to serve others as volunteers to reflect upon these words from the letter to the Philippians 2:1-5.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus gave of himself so that all the world might be reconciled to God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus gave no thought to his own glory, nor his own rights and privileges and so through simple obedience and humility was glorified.

As those who have been called to follow Christ, let all volunteers have that same mind.