A day in the life of our Project Partner Coordinator: Choosing to Serve

Dustin and a group of volunteers working at Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

Dustin and a group of volunteers working at Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

When I applied to become a Motown staffer, I did what anyone would do – I checked out the Flickr photos and read this blog. Those two outlets gave me such an insight into this wonderful ministry. So as I look to give back to future staffers and future volunteers, I want to make my contribution something that helps y’all as much as it helped me. Here, I explore not what Motown does, not what volunteers do, and not even what the job of a staffer is. Instead, I want to walk you through what a day in the life of a Motown staffer looks like.

It begins with Sunday night. Every Sunday this summer, a new group would arrive, unpack, eat dinner, and spend their first evening gathering of the week learning about Motown’s ministry focus this year -- namely, what it means to do ministry WITH Detroiters rather than TO Detroiters.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that is precisely what my days looked like: I spent my days learning to live out the ‘ministry with’ that we had discussed.

Monday rolls around and we’re off to the worksite. Today, we’re working with a block club to clear brush, mow, and scrape sidewalks around an abandoned school. It’s the hottest day of the summer and there’s not a lick of shade. The trees, vines, and weeds seem endless. But the block club members eagerly welcome me and the volunteers. They have cool water and lemonade to drink, hot dogs for lunch, and a helping hand. Other neighbors from the area notice work being done, and grab their lawn mowers to help out too. People of all ages almost swarm the area. And still the trees, vines, and weeds seem endless. A neighborhood kid comes up and asks, “How long are you guys gonna’ be here working?” Response comes back in exaggerated humor, “Oh, I don’t know, until we’re done – maybe nighttime.” The kid’s eyes light up. “No, you’re not, cause I’m gonna help!” And he grabs a lawn mower from the nearest adult leader, asks how to use it, and he’s off to the races -- flying across the schoolyard making his own neighborhood look amazing. It would have been easy for me as a staffer on site to miss this. I could focus on my own task – scraping the sidewalks that seem miles long in the heat. Would I be doing ministry to the neighborhood? Sure. But I miss out on the joy that comes not from giving Christ’s love to Detroit, but that comes as I receive a glimpse of Christ’s love already at work here – in the heart of the neighborhood kid I am doing ministry with.

By Monday night toward dinnertime, I’m thinking ahead to the next day’s work –

preparing mental lists of tools to be assembled for work groups; figuring out a bedtime and wake-up time so that I can make it to the lumberyard for some drywall before 9am; deciding how to check in with Motown volunteers at dinnertime to get an insight into the challenges and joys of their work that day. My brain is a bit full and a bit tired. When my phone buzzes, I’m not completely excited to have another thing to think about just then. But it’s nobody more serious than my fellow staff member Nykeshia, sending me a very un-serious meme because she’s noticed I’m flagging a bit and needed some cheering up. Wow. This is doing ministry with staff, not ministry to staff.

By the time dinner wraps up and it’s almost time to head up for evening gathering, I’ve checked in with all but one of the work groups. I think to myself: “Just one more conversation and I’ll head upstairs to rest and refresh myself through worship.” Instead of asking this group leader about her day, however, she engages me. She asks me how I’m doing, what I like about my job, whether I like Detroit, where I’m from, where I’m going in life, how I think I’ll be following Jesus the rest of this summer and in future years. I’m simultaneously put at ease and taken aback. I’m at ease because it means so much to have this level of care and concern shown towards me, the staffer who is supposed to care for and concern myself with volunteers. I’m taken aback because I just now realize that I am still learning the lesson of Sunday – I can do ministry with Detroiters, I can do ministry with my fellow staff members, but I still have to learn to do ministry with our volunteers. And doing ministry with our volunteers fills me up, and surprises me with joy I didn’t expect on a hot, busy day.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday come around. I’m a bit surprised that I’m still learning the lesson of Sunday and Monday. I still have to learn to do ministry with everyone I meet. I still have to pick my eyes up to Christ from whence comes my help. Yes, I can and should create time to meet my Heavenly Father in the morning, alone, listening to him in the silence of a sunrise. But during the day, it’s a bit too easy to keep my head down, focusing on the task at hand, checking items off my to-do list. What a joy it is to do ministry with people, then -- to see Christ who “plays in 10,000 places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces.” That is Gerard Manley Hopkins, who gave me the words to understand what I am having to learn in every day as a Motown staffer -- that I have the amazing privilege to work in a job where my main role is to find Christ everywhere. To do this not just for others, but for myself, made being a Motown Staffer one of the most extraordinary succession of 78 days I have ever had.

Dustin is a senior at Hillsdale College, and is the best RA in the world. He enjoys cowboy boots and trucks -- and everything Texas.