In this era of selfishness and self-centeredness, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” is not a line we hear often. But it is still needed. Still true.

Giving is, of course, not just about money, but time and effort. A recent CNN report showed a rise in those volunteering their time and services. In rating states, Minnesota ranks second highest in volunteering, just under Utah. Cheers for Minnesota.

I find volunteering, hands on, more meaningful than donating money, although money is necessary and of course, not all can volunteer.

About 25 years ago, my mother died and my family soon crumbled. Our father is still alive and well, at 98, but Mama was the glue. I won’t detail the family drama, but it had a painful effect on me, with no sibling conversations for many years. I attended church often, penned myself to pews in prayer, but one church leader, out of the blue, told me, “You have been partially healed, but you will never be completely healed, until you start helping other people.”

A light went on. I knew a few people who helped out at Mercy House, a mission in Cass Corridor, a notorious part of Detroit, complete with crime, homelessness, drugs and prostitution. I found a shabby place of strong odors – worse in the summers – with sweat, urine, piercing the humid sanctuary, but somehow it drew me in.

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Rick Stawinski led worship, on his electric guitar; his style described as “going to Heaven on a Harley.” After a church service, we served lunch. Over the years, I helped out, by preparing sandwiches, doling out doughnuts (“Just one”) and teaching. Eventually, after Rick left, I led worship on my cheap keyboard. I had no flair, but the music filled a void. I met addicts and the homeless. One of the women, sweet and petite, was a prostitute who struggled with drugs, wearing a smile through her pain. I attended her funeral.

I still went out with friends and traveled, but nothing was as fulfilling as serving there. I hope I made a small difference, but the experience probably helped me more, even filling the family void. Is any healing complete? No, but I found I lost much of my self-pity and gained more compassion. By helping others, I helped me.


Here, in Fargo-Moorhead, one summer I helped prepare meals at the Salvation Army and now require students in one course to do volunteer work, writing a short report. I want students, some struggling with emotional pain, to “see” others. Some were initially annoyed, even, as expected, connecting community service to legal punishment. They served, often in groups, as Salvation Army bell ringers, animal shelter volunteers or clean-up crew workers. Others worked at Churches United, finding the human face behind statistics on the homeless and returned there, after the assignment. I love the fact that one of the students who had initially complained about the assignment, came back and said, “That was pretty cool.”