When I arrived in Detroit, I came with the desire to learn about larger non-profit organizations, to learn about urban non-profit organizations, and to learn about a wide variety of non-profit organizations. As Project Partner Coordinator, I spent my summer doing just that. Yet my understanding of non-profit work truly transformed when I answered the more basic questions underlying my aims above. I had to ask myself questions such as why we do this with volunteers? Why are so many of the volunteers from outside Detroit? Does this work last? Are we enacting fundamental change?
As I developed answers to these questions over the course of the summer, my understanding of Motown Mission’s purpose transformed.
- We use volunteers because the work being done is not just the work with shovels and hammers. It is work being done in our own hearts – those of Motown staff and of Motown volunteers. The mission is to us, not just to the city. By having volunteers do this work, volunteers learn the story of Detroit. The story of Detroit becomes part of our story. The story of God’s work in this city merges with the story of God’s work in us. And the mission spreads.
- Though we often have visitors who come from neighboring towns and regions, we also welcome visitors from far-away because those both far and near need to learn to love. Motown staff and Motown volunteers need to learn to be stretched -- to go far, far outside our comfort zones. To love strange people. To be put in uncomfortable situations. To be forced to encounter and learn about this community, so that we can return and pay more attention to the uncomfortable places in our own communities.
- The work lasts because we are just a part of something greater. More volunteers will come and continue this work. Neighbors will notice and begin to help out too. We must lose any self-importance that would play a role in justifying our contribution. We were here when we were needed. Others will be there when they are needed.
- We cannot fix Detroit - nor does it need "saving." We do. Only Christ can save. We live in the great ‘in-between’ -- between God’s promises of a future perfect kingdom and its fulfillment. In the meantime, we can only work to establish little pockets of justice and hope, shadows of the full restorative work of Christ. This justice begins by understanding Detroit, and not seeking to ‘fix’ it. Many things are right here. There is hope here. That hope is in Christ, not in us. And Christ is in this place.
My articulation of these thoughts came as I meditated on a prayer that I repeated many times over the course of the summer. I didn’t pray it as consistently as I should have, but the words were consistent when I remembered to pray them. God answered this prayer. And prayer is transformational. I’d invite the readers to pray it with me as they read:
God, make Motown Mission a place for myself and the volunteers to encounter your presence. To know how real you are. To find you in the most unexpected places.
God, make Motown Mission a place for myself and the volunteers to learn to love. To love with humility. To love those who need it, not just to love where it is easy and comfortable. Let us look to you as the source and power behind the love, knowing that only the Spirit of God ministers to this city and the hearts within it, even our hearts.
God, make Motown Mission a praise facilitator. Empty our hands of all but praise. No complaining. No motives of pride. Just help us to praise. To praise God for this city and its residents. To praise God for his redemptive work being done everywhere, even in us.
Dustin is a senior at Hillsdale College studying English Literature.