Youths’ missions prompt this adult to ask: What will I do for anyone now?”

 

Youth group members and adult volunteers gather last week at the La Porte home of David and Julie Kessler after helping with yard work and more: From left: Back row, Jay Pillai, Michael Pham, Jan Moelker, Eric Moelker, Kris Pillai. Front row, Carla Pillai, Julie Kessler, Ravi Pillai, Vijay Pillai, David Kessler. Not pictured: Tom Moelker and Carol Koenemann.

Column by Julie Kessler, non-commissioned lay pastor of The Presbyterian Church of La Porte

When the youth group leader at our church asked if the kids could help out at our house in some way, our answer was, “Sure!” I didn’t know then how their efforts would cause me to reflect on Christian values, bring to mind a familiar verse, and make me ask myself an uncomfortable question.

Carla Pillai, youth group leader at The Presbyterian Church of La Porte, explained how the offer to help came about. “We thought about what our youth group can do for our congregation and for the community. This project, helping others, seemed like a good fit.” 

It was a good fit at our house, where six huge bags of potting mix were waiting to be hauled up to our deck and branches and sticks littered our corner lot from recent high winds. Up in the attic were mysterious, mostly unlabeled boxes to be identified and brought down without challenging our knees.

Every kid willingly hauled, raked, wrestled branches and braved some soot in the attic from a re-roofing job. The adults who came along worked beside them, offering guidance but with no need to exhort or cajole. It was impressive and quite jolly to see.

“The kids do enjoy helping. I think they saw such a benefit in our project, and yours and David’s reactions (of appreciation) were really great for them. We talk about how helping others helps us as well, not only our characters, but it also strengthens the bond within the group,” Carla told me.

She and her husband, Kris, are with the group every week, joined as needed by Ken Fry, Larry Sheagley, and Tom and Jan Moelker and their son, Eric. Up to 10 youths meet regularly, occasionally accompanied by friends. For Larry, who’s been a youth group volunteer since the 1990s, the most rewarding thing is “knowing you’re helping to get the kids off on the right foot. They’re coming to church. Not everyone who comes to youth group goes to our church, but the fact that they do come to youth group, hopefully we’re instilling in them some of the Christian values we all have.” 

“I saw a need (for a youth leader) and that it was what I was called to do,” Carla said, adding she enjoys working with teens. Her own three boys are in the group, but “When I’m there, I’m not Mom, I’m the youth leader.” 

The plan is to do one project a month in addition to the regular meetings. The next one will be for the community, on June 19, spreading mulch for the Kesling Park walking trail along with the La Porte High School girls and boys cross country teams. “We’re trying to pick projects that are meaningful and have impact,” Carla said.  

Larry, who plans to help at the Kesling Park project, said the kids are more than willing to pitch in. “You can give them instructions on what to do and you can expect they’ll get it done. These projects are part of being a Christian, to help others.”

Compassion in action is one of our church’s missions. I found myself thinking of that in two ways. The first is that familiar verse, James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?” What is the nature of those deeds?” 

I saw a second way in Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works …”

I pondered the difference between “deeds” and “works.” Doing a good deed might be as simple as helping someone across the street. Doing good works suggests a sustained effort, continuously or periodically, as in helping at a soup kitchen. From that arose the uncomfortable question: What have I done for anyone lately? 

It made me cringe. As we often do, I rationalized: I lead the Presbyterian Women Bible study at my church; I preach once in a great while when the pastor is on vacation; I write press releases for the church. One of Merriam Webster’s definitions of “works” is “performance of moral or religious acts.” There! Okay? Well …

I’ve had good intentions to tote some nonperishables to the church food pantry during the darkest days of the pandemic. I’ve had good intentions to do a number of other “works.” Which means, if we are to believe the adage, that I’ve been paving the road to you-know-where.

Good works cannot earn God’s love. So put away the “works” calculator. But the question nags: What kind of Christian am I? I spent years volunteering in Habitat for Humanity, for Youth Service Bureau programs, counseling, etc. Compassionate, sure. At 73 with a bad back, my heavy lifting days are over. But heavy lifting is only one way of helping. I saw that theologyofwork.org says, “James brings an action-oriented perspective … If faith is real — if we truly trust God — then our faith will lead to all kinds of practical actions for the benefit of others in need.”

Perhaps I need to change the question: What will I do for anyone now?

One Response to “Youths’ missions prompt this adult to ask: What will I do for anyone now?””

  1. Cheryl Stephan

    Jun 04. 2021

    Great idea!! Thanks!

    Reply to this comment

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