BY LILA CARPENTER
1 Corinthians 12 describes the Body of Christ as made up of people with varying but specific gifts, talents, and abilities, just as a human body is made up of many unique but interdependent parts. When considering my place in the Body, I always thought that my lack of gifts and talents made me an expendable organ – like the appendix. An experience over winter break, however, transformed my view of my role in the Body of Christ.
In January, students from my church participated in an urban outreach program through Center for Student Missions (CSM). On our first night, we took a “prayer tour” of San Francisco. The Single Room Occupancies – $700–$900 per month, 10 × 10 rooms that often house an entire family – in the Tenderloin were just three blocks from Bloomingdale’s and the gold-leafed town hall. This juxtaposition of poverty and luxury seemed unjust. Where was God amidst this darkness? Throughout the week, I realized that His light shines through people and groups like CSM that function as the Body of Christ.
At Medshare International, an organization that ships medical equipment overseas, sorting dozens of boxes and hundreds of supplies, transporting bags of food at the Second Harvest Food Bank, and working through Project Open Hand delivering hot meals to people with AIDS, the other volunteers and I served as the arms and muscles of the Body.
When we worked with kids at the Bay Area Rescue Mission, I especially connected with a nine-year-old, Juanita. During homework time I assumed she would finish her page of simple addition and subtraction easily. After finding that 1+2 = __ problems produced as much erasing as writing, though, another volunteer and I taught her tricks like counting on her fingers or counting cookies. By the end, she could do the problems quickly, sometimes even without cookies or fingers to help. With Juanita, my partner and I worked as the brains and hearts of the Body of Christ.
For one of my favorite projects, we broke into groups to “meet the needs” of disadvantaged people without gifting money. With ten dollars, my group and I walked from Golden Gate Park into the city, where a man named Doug asked us for spare change. When we offered to buy him something else he might want or need, he requested a pocketknife to “keep the bad spirits away,” but we settled on buying him a carton of cigarettes. Pieter, a college student in our group, had a smoke with him while Doug recounted his life story. Something as simple as sharing a cigarette became an act of love. Waiting for Doug and Pieter to finish their cigarettes gave us a reason to spend more time with Doug. We were the ears of the Body of Christ.
Christ’s followers all make up his Body, and one becomes an indispensable and immeasurably useful part of it by receiving Jesus. When Jesus was on earth, he loved the unloved and cared for the neglected: now, as his Body, we are called to do the same. What the 14 volunteers did with CSM revealed how God can use us despite our lack of abilities. Putting the Body in motion can mean buying soup for a homeless person or sharing a cigarette and stories with someone you pass every day. For me, being part of the Body means carrying new socks in my backpack to give out when I’m asked for money. My ideas were backwards when I thought that I was an expendable part of the Body because I did not have a lot to offer. The Body does not come from our good works; our good works come from being part of the Body.