Secretly Awesome

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and stumbled upon an article called “Dear volunteers in Africa: please don’t come help until you ask yourself these questions.” This seemed like it applied to me oddly specifically, so I clicked on it.

The first question the article told the reader to ask themselves was, “Would you still go if you didn’t have a camera?”

Well, I’m going to be a photographer. So, that’s tough.

But, I was thinking about serving in general, and the thought occurred to me that it might actually feel different to go serve if not only we took zero pictures, but if no one else knew we were serving there in the first place. Imagine going across the globe to serve an orphanage or an organization or help out in some other way and not telling anyone and not taking any pictures to brag about what you’re doing on social media.

Would you? Seriously, think about all of the publication and posts about trips before people go on them. Even for my trip to South Africa, I’ve had to post stuff all the time and send out support letters and sell shirts; it’s almost like advertising to raise money so I can help people. I think all of this is super important for me to raise enough money to go and serve, but imagine if no one knew about my caper and I just left. It’s hard to be prideful if you don’t advertise what you’re doing in the first place, right?

So, what if you really did go on a missions trip and took no pictures? Obviously assuming your job is not a photographer; that’s a little different. One of my best friends is from South Africa, his name is Samora, and he lives here in the States. Often when he and I are together, we’ll somehow find a post on social media from someone who’s helping out in another country. The post goes something like this: there’s a picture of an African kid or group of African kids smiling and laughing, or looking very sad and hungry; or a picture of an American teenager posing with a little African kid on her back. The caption reads something like: “(Country name) has my heart,” with a cheesy emoji, or “Meet my new best friend from (Country name.)”

Here’s two disclaimers real fast: 1. Posts like this don’t really have bad motives behind them, and 2. I have posted cheesy stuff like this.

Somewhere along the way, the comfortable Christians like me missed the point. Tell me, honestly, what’s the purpose in posting a picture like that? I’m not attacking anyone here, but we’ve gotta have a heart-check with things like this. What if we did generous things and gracious, caring things without people knowing? Does that take any value away? It shouldn’t, right?

The other thing is, posting a picture of sad kids in poverty doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. This is sort of on a different topic, but if I don’t know a kid’s name or story, then why should I post a picture of him? Here’s another disclaimer: I don’t remember the name of the kid in the cover photo for this blog. I did at one point, and I taught her in an English class when I was in South Africa awhile ago. The point is though, it makes way more of a difference if we get to know people in need and really love them and help them. Sure, take their picture after that; you’re real friends now. I’ll talk about this topic more in-depth some time later, but we’ve gotta remember that those kids aren’t some specimen just to have cute pictures taken of.

When I’m in South Africa as a photographer, I hope to take pictures that tell real, true stories, that are beautiful and honest, and that show people as real humans, with a beating heart and raw emotions; not just a sad face used to get sympathy. Abba’s Pride (the organization I’ll be serving) does a great job at getting to know communities and really serving people selflessly, and I’m so excited to join them.

I remember the first time I learned about serving selflessly in-depth. I went on this crazy church retreat in middle school, and the theme of the weekend was “Secretly Awesome.” I still have the tee shirt from it; it’s all red, with the words “secretly awesome” in a slightly different shade of red written across the back. Over the weekend, we talked about what it looks like to do awesome things without people knowing it was you doing them. We also talked about what it would be like to do awesome things not expecting anything in return.

That’s an upside-down world view to most. But I think our world has twisted what “giving” is really about, and almost without us realizing it. To be secretly awesome, a person doesn’t look for any self-glorification. Sometimes, that person doesn’t even reveal their identity so it’s impossible to credit them.

I have a few people in my life who are secretly awesome. More than a few, actually; let me tell you about some of them. For those of you who don’t know, I work at a frozen yogurt bar. It’s awesome. I keep the store clean and make sure everything is ready for customers, and then ring them up. A few months ago, an old friend kept visiting me at work; actually, he’s the Dad of an old friend of mine. Every night he would visit me, he would leave me a Chik-fil-a sandwich, and he barely accepted my gratitude when I tried to thank him. I never even asked for him to buy me food, he just started doing it, and he normally doesn’t even stick around long enough for me to thank him. He’s not looking for any self-glorification, he’s not looking for anything in return: he’s just being kind.

Another friend who’s been secretly awesome lately is an old family friend of mine. The family now lives in Maryland, and they are really awesome. For the past few months, they’ve been ordering my family large meals from restaurants and they’ve had them delivered to our house, paying for them in full before they reach our door. They don’t even live in the same state as us, they have no interest in gaining something in return; they just love us.

These people don’t care if anyone else sees the good they do. When I go to Africa, would I do things differently if I didn’t try to show anyone the stuff I was doing, but focused on what God was instead? When we go on trips and when we help others at home, I think we’ve got to double-check where our motives are at. Are we helping to point people to God, or are we looking for a cool Instagram opportunity, or for other people to think more highly of us? As you go through your day, think about doing things solely for others and the Lord, and not so you can get praise, but just to help people for the sake of helping.

Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Take this question to heart: If no one sees you doing something awesome, would you still do it? Together, let’s all work on doing things humbly, out of love, and for the intention of giving God the glory.


Gideon’s Army

Last time I updated my blog, I informed the reader of a hopeful surgery that was set to take place April 18th for my Dad’s cancer. Friends, if you haven’t heard yet: that surgery was canceled shortly after my Dad took to the operating table. Once the doctors had started the surgery and made the first incision across his abdomen, they began to inspect my Dad’s insides and quickly realized that the cancer was worse than they had expected. Tumors were more prevalent than the last scan showed, and the procedure was deemed too risky; if just one large chunk of cancer remained in my Dad’s abdomen, it would grow back at twice the rate of before. So, that news surely took us all by surprise, and we were confused as to what the Lord was, and still is, doing.

In the book of Judges, there’s a story about a man named Gideon who’s confused by what the Lord’s doing, too. Gideon was an Israelite, but in his time, his people’s land had been overtaken by a people called the Midianites. Gideon is called by God to fight for Him and take back his land, but he’s afraid and it takes him awhile to fully trust the Lord. Initially, an angel appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” But Gideon doesn’t understand why God would let another people take his land, so he says, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I get that, Gideon.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my good friend Mrs. Sandwell after my family and I returned from Pittsburgh. We were talking about my Dad and his cancer, and we spoke about the surgery and the confusion around what the Lord’s doing. She said something to me that I hadn’t thought of before; she said that she wasn’t too worried that the surgery hadn’t taken place. If God chooses to heal my Dad at this point, she said, absolutely no doctor could say that the cancer was healed because of  any medicine or procedure or anything of the Earth- but the Lord would get all of the glory. If our prayer throughout all of this is for God to be glorified no matter what, than maybe this is indeed an answer to prayer, as confusing as it might seem in our limited human perspective.

What Mrs. Sandwell said reminded me of something that happened to Gideon later in his life.

Gideon goes on to lead an army of 32,000 Israelites to fight against the Midianites in Judges Ch. 7. Before they even went into battle, though, God spoke to Gideon and told him something crazy. He said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into your hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that their own strength has saved them, announce that any man who is afraid should turn around and go home.” After Gideon tells his army that message, 22,000 men leave him. So now Gideon is left with just 10,000 men to fight an army of 135,000. The odds are very much against him and his army, but God wants Israel to know that their own power can’t save them.

After Gideon’s army is reduced to 10,000, God tells him something else wild. God tells Gideon that he still has too many men, and He tells Gideon to cut the army down to just 300 men. Three hundred men. That’s 1/5 the size of my high school, that seems like absolutely nothing compared to what the enemy has. Then, God uses Gideon and those 300 men to defeat the entire enemy army to take back Israel. Because the army was so small and because every odd in the world was stacked against Gideon, the Lord got all of the glory from the victory. No one could say that these men were just ridiculously good fighters or that they got lucky, the glory had to point towards God.

If my Dad is healed at this point, no one can say it was good medicine or luck. No doctor can take credit for his healing, and honestly, it would be hard for any man to find a single logical or scientific reason for his life other than the Lord. This is my prayer, this would really bring Jesus into the spotlight more than any other opportunity for healing yet. It’s hard for me to see an outcome where God would receive as much glory as this possibility and prayer, although I know that even if cancer takes my Dad’s life, God will be glorified, and we try to praise Him regardless.

There’s a really great story in Acts that embodies the attitude I want to hold towards not only this struggle, but every other struggle in life as well. In Acts 5, Peter and some other apostles refuse to stop telling people about Jesus and his resurrection, and so they get flogged by a group called the Sanhedrin. After this, it says:

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is so insanely awesome to me; the apostles are beaten because of Jesus’s name, and they can only rejoice. Pain and struggles strengthen our faiths and force us to draw closer to the Lord. As one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, said:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We are a deaf people, and pain certainly forces us to draw closer to the Lord and each other.

This also isn’t to say that we shouldn’t keep pursuing options in recovery and healing with my Dad; God didn’t defeat the Midianites directly, He used those 300 men to kill them. God works in a lot of different ways, and we’re not giving up. Maybe God intends to use something that may seem small or improbable to heal my Dad- who knows.

Here’s the tough thing though: God might not heal my Dad. I hope He does, but He might not. But God will still be good, and God will still get the most glory; I just don’t understand how yet, and maybe I never will. I’m okay with trusting that the Lord will be glorified no matter the outcome of my Dad’s cancer, and my family can live in the confidence that Jesus reigns supreme and totally knows what He’s doing. I challenge you to live in that same truth no matter what you’re going through as well.