Posted by Todd Smith
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I am writing this post on my final day here in Africa. It has been a great trip. While much of the trip has been spent providing food, clothing, love, and prayer for some of the most desperate people in the world, I feel refreshed and full of life.
This trip has reinforced my belief that when you help others, you help yourself. Think of the last time you gave of yourself to help someone. It could have been jump-starting someone’s car, a meal you made for a friend who was sick, or serving at the local homeless shelter. How did it make you feel?
When you take your resources, whether it is your time, talent, or money to help others, there is something about the experience that fills you up and brings greater joy and satisfaction to your life.
The American Culture
Americans are the most generous people in the world, measured by charitable giving as a percent of GDP. Despite the deep economic recession, charitable giving in 2009 topped $300 billion.
The instinct to rally around a cause to serve a greater need has been part of our country dating back to 1630 when John Winthrop led a group of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay and imparted the “model of Christian charity.” He said, “We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only on our own things but also the things of our brethren.”
In settlements like Jamestown and Plymouth, neighbors depended on each other to survive the drought, blistering heat, lack of food, and harsh winters
In the mid-to-late 18th century, public service became less of a Christian mission and more of a civic duty. The stories of how people gave of themselves to help others are endless, from Harriet Tubman who led more than 300 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad to volunteers who collected more than 4 billion dimes between 1938-1955 for polio research, we have come together as a country to help others.
Not only have we been a nation to help our own people, but we have also come together to help people around the world. One of the Africans told me if it weren’t for America, half of Africa would be dead. While that’s likely an exaggeration, the fact is people around the world have a great deal of respect for our humanitarian efforts.
Quite frankly, I was nervous about how I would be treated here in Africa, but I was blown away by the love I felt from the people. Everywhere my wife and I went, people went out of their way to smile, wave, and say hello. It was almost as if when they saw a Caucasian, they knew they were there to help them.
When disaster struck Haiti earlier this year, Americans rallied to donate their time and money. There were so many doctors and nurses from America who volunteered to help, a waiting list had to be created. Millions of other Americans helped by donating money or jumping on planes to serve the people of Haiti.
Find the Right Fit for You
Helping others can look 1001 different ways. It can be shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, filling up a friend’s car with gas that is suffering from financial hardship, or being one of the 63 million Americans who are part of an organized volunteer effort.
I want to challenge you to look at how blessed you really are and consider how you can help others. To open your mind to the possibilities, ask yourself these questions:
- How can I best use my skills, talents, and abilities to help others?
- Where does my greatest interest and passion lie and how can that best be used to serve others?
- When I look at the needs in my community, what can I do to help?
- As I watch the news and see the desperate conditions in some of the third-world nations, what can I offer those people?
- Is my church putting together a mission trip? If so, would I be willing to use my vacation time to go and serve?
Regardless of your interests, temperament, or availability, a wide range of opportunities can be found, each offering its own benefits.
Let me encourage you to stop focusing exclusively on your own needs and desires and start looking at what you can do to help others. I bet you will find more joy and fulfillment when you change your focus from your selfish desires to using your gifts and resources to help others.
Parents, I want to once again remind you that what you do sets an example for your children. As you give of yourself to help others, not only will you be setting the right example for your children, but also their respect for you will grow. According to Carole Weisman, author of Raising Charitable Children, “Teaching your child to be charitable means he will grow up thinking of others.”
Please take five minutes of quiet time right now and consider how you can help.
When you help others, you not only make their world better, but you make yours better too.
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