By Coach Phil Niekerk
Seven a.m. is a tough time for most high school students to be anywhere on a Saturday morning. But one by one, fourteen varsity baseball players I coach at NorthPointe Christian High School wandered into a downtown church at this early hour. They came to serve at a community breakfast for the downtown homeless and needy. I’m betting these boys had mixed motives in coming, but knowing these kids, I think for many of them their hearts were moved to help someone less fortunate.
First Park Congregational Church provides a breakfast for the homeless community once a month and they were grateful to have the boys that day. On this particular Saturday, many of their regular volunteers were out of town. It really seemed that without our team being there that day, a small number of people would have had to pull off the breakfast. Pat is a faithful volunteer, whose monthly task is to greet each “guest” as they come in for breakfast. She seemed especially grateful for the boys’ help. She said, “I can’t believe these boys would get up so early to come help us. This is awesome!” When I told her I wasn’t sure the boys were “all there,” (referring to the early morning cobwebs in their eyes) she quickly retorted, “Awww… they’ll fit right in with our guests.”
For the first hour we worked to prepare the breakfast. Some worked the grill, making pancakes and eggs. Others set up tables, filled syrup bottles, made coffee, and delivered bananas to each table. A few trained in the back to use the industrial dishwasher. And at 8 a.m., we were ready. Pat opened the doors and for the next hour and a half the boys filled plates, bussed tables, and ran food requests for 175 people—many of whom carried all their earthly belongings on their backs. Some of the folks were friendly and thankful, some were shy and quiet, while others just seemed like they were from another planet. The boys took it all in stride and treated each person kindly and respectfully.
After it was all over and everything was cleaned up, we gathered the boys together to thank them and to get their thoughts or observations from the morning. I asked my friend Charlie to talk with the boys for a few minutes about the history and mission of this breakfast. Charlie attends the church and was the one who invited us to serve that morning. Charlie and his wife, Tamara, have been organizing this breakfast once a month for the last twelve years. He said the church had been serving the homeless community in the downtown area for at least 30 years. As Charlie talked with the boys, I wondered what motivates people like Charlie, Tamara, and their host of faithful servants to do this. It was obvious they weren’t doing it for applause, as no one really gives them much of that. It was clear they weren’t doing this to get a good feeling about themselves, as that would have faded in the first few months of their twelve years of service. Instead, they did this simply for the love of people. It was their mission to look after the needs of others who had physical, emotional, financial, and mental needs.
What I love about environments like this is that they create a culture of people looking out for other people. Park Church was looking out for the homeless and needy in their community. The boys from NorthPointe baseball were looking out for Park Church on a day when their volunteer ranks were down. Charlie and Tamara were looking out for the fourteen young men modeling a lifestyle of sacrifice and servanthood for their fellow human beings in need. Honestly, everyone serving that day could have said, “Someone else can take care of this need. This is not my responsibility. I have other things to do.” But, each went beyond their own responsibility.
As we look at Ruth 3 this week, we see the characters of this biblical story looking out for each other. Each could have said, “Sorry, that’s not my responsibility. I have other needs to meet.” Naomi looked out for Ruth. If Boaz marries Ruth, Naomi will be left alone. But, Naomi wanted Ruth to be cared for and secure. Ruth looked out for Naomi. She sought for Boaz to intervene for Naomi’s dead husband and sons – not just for herself. Boaz looked out for Elimalech, Naomi’s dead husband. His marriage to Ruth could have compromised his wealth as he agreed to father a child that will not be “his.” Their child would be an heir of Elimalech to preserve his family name and line.
Going beyond our responsibilities to look after others comes from the deep heart of God. Spend some time meditating on these Scriptures this week and then give yourself to the needs of others.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.
For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give up his life.