I still refer to it as one of the best, most life-changing summers of my life. It was the summer of 1985 and I was on staff at a family camp in the San Bernardino mountains of California. “Forest Home” was my home for almost three months and I loved it there among the tall pine trees and rugged rocky slopes. Each week a different group of families would come through so there was constant activity and life happening all around. I was assigned to the “Accomo” crew, which is short for “Accommodations”, which means housekeeping. My crew mates and I would travel by pick-up trucks to the various cabins and dorms where the people stayed, changing bed sheets, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, and all that kind of stuff. We would load up with canvas bags of clean sheets, bags for the dirty sheets, cleaning supplies, vacuum cleaners, mops, buckets, you name it and work all day. It was hard work and tiring. There were times my feet would hurt from standing in showers being in tennis shoes wet with cleaning solution and disinfectant all day. I went through lots of hand lotion from all the washing we did. I did learn how to drive using side rearview mirrors – navigating out of narrow gravel driveways without going off a ledge (Actually I did go off a ledge once but no one got hurt). I also learned to drive a hoss of a truck we called “the Pig”. It was a mottled bluish-green giant and had the gear shift on the steering wheel column. That was a first for me but it was fun!
I have to admit when I first got my assignment that summer I was disappointed. I thought I would be a counselor, working the cool job and hanging out with teenagers and school-aged kids, making crafts, playing games, hiking and the like. You know, the really spiritual job. I did get to do that two weeks out of the whole summer and it was a great learning experience for me. In fact, one week I was in the “Indian Village” supervising ten 3rd grade girls. We slept on cots in an actual teepee that was built on a concrete slab and would roll the canvas walls up a bit at night to get fresh air. One night I woke to hear a funny growling noise and then felt something nudge me up as it walked under my cot! I laid there for a long time with wide eyes before I could go back to sleep.
I experienced my first earthquake that summer at camp. I spent more time one on one with Jesus than I ever had before and in such beautiful surroundings. I found a creek just down the hill from the staff quarters where I would walk, listening to my Walkman (way before iPods) and talk with God. One day in particular as I laid on a sunny rock in the middle of the creek I felt God’s presence so close it was as if I were actually laying nestled in His hand. It’s hard to describe how real He was to me that day and how His love overwhelmed me.
I actually learned that there is joy in doing menial labor, in doing a job that is mostly behind the scenes and not often acknowledged by the people you’re doing it for. I found joy in serving. I’d do my best at the job I was given and God blessed me in that. I made some incredible friends and we made the work fun together. We realized that what we did enabled the families to enjoy their time at camp more, to just enjoy being with each other and God.
There’s no little or unimportant job when it comes to serving God. I heard a friend share once about a trip she and some others made to India to serve in the home run by Mother Theresa and the other nuns in the Missionaries of Charity order. They were excited to get out on the streets and do the dirty work of rescuing and caring for those dying in the gutters and alleys. Instead, they were given the job of folding laundry. The whole time. All they did was laundry. My friend shared that she was kind of disappointed and upset – it was not what she had envisioned she would be doing. She realized, though, that even though it wasn’t glamorous it was important. If they didn’t do the laundry there would be no clean sheets or gowns for the people coming to the mission. It seemed a little, unimportant job when really it was anything but that.
A nursery worker at a church might think her job isn’t as important as the preacher, but what if she’s snuggling and loving on a baby of a single mother who never gets to go anywhere by herself. Maybe that single mother gets to sit in the service with adults and be ministered to. Maybe God planned to meet her in that hour and bring hope to her tired heart.
For me to get upset about my little job and wish I was doing something that seems more important would kind of be like the hands of my body feeling put out because they don’t get to pump the blood through my veins. They’re not meant to pump blood. Just like the heart is not built to play piano or scrub floors. My hands have their own work to do and it affects every other part of me and my life. Likewise, for me to feel guilty that I’m not the one who’s always praying with people to accept Christ or that I should be doing jobs other than I’ve been given is silly, too. Maybe part of it is pride. I have to be willing to accept that God may give me jobs I didn’t expect.
Paul told us in Colossians 3:23 to do everything as if we’re working for God, not people. If every one of us does our own job with excellence we will probably never know the impact it has on others and the part it plays in all of God’s will being accomplished. Even if we’re cleaning toilets.
Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. I Corinthians 3:5-8 The Msg