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The Power of Serving Others

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Helping others can give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose that nothing else can. And yet many of us think that serving others just isn't an option. We think we don't have the time. We don't have the skills. We don't have the resources. We don't know where to start. The problems of the world are just too big for us to possibly make a difference.
In The Power of Serving Others, Gary Morsch and Dean Nelson show that everybody has something to contribute and that our ability to transform our lives by transforming the lives of others is within our reach. Offering step-by-step advice, they address the common mental blocks that keep many of us from discovering the joy and power of serving others, and they will teach you how to establish meaning through daily service. Drawing on their own experiences in places like Calcutta, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Tanzania, and right here in the United States, and featuring moving personal stories from people ranging from a former Black Panther Party member to Mother Teresa, Morsch and Nelson show how people from all walks of life have found a deep sense of fulfillment through simple gestures of service. Many of the problems the people in this book are helping with--reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami, combating AIDS in Africa, healing the wounds of the Balkan civil war--seem utterly daunting. What can you possibly do in the face of such need? The Power of Serving Others shows that no matter who you are--regardless of your age, expertise, or position--you can enrich your own life and the lives of others through service.

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Chapter 1: Get in the Boat

ePub

11

Be compassionate. And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.

Morrie Schwartz1


I saw the same images you did: rooftops barely exposed above water, bodies floating in rivers, the Superdome overrun with people and trash, the crush of humanity trying to escape the floods and the shelters. Looters, soldiers, politicians, residents, and journalists reaching their boiling points, often on television.

When I got to New Orleans a few days after Hurricane Katrina blew through in September 2005, telephone poles looked like mangled fingers from an underground monster. Tops of trees were shorn off. Steel beams from unfinished structures bent as if they were still resisting the wind.

I was in an RV with some relief workers, trying to find out where shipments of medicine and mobile medical clinics needed to go. The few other vehicles on the road were either emergency or military, all heavily armed. The only real traffic was in the sky. Hundreds of helicopters ratcheted overhead. There was no electricity. There were no inhabitants. It felt like the end of the world.

 

Chapter 2: Get over Yourself

ePub

17

If we fail in love, we fail in all things else.

William Sloane Coffin1


A stethoscope can put a swagger in any doctor’s walk. I don’t know that it always makes me feel important, but sometimes, I confess, it does. It did during a visit to Mother Teresa’s House of Dying Destitutes. The name alone is enough to make you shake your head in dismay. It is in Calcutta, a city that combines population density and intense poverty. Add extreme heat and a desperate lack of sanitation, and, well, you get the picture. The House of Dying Destitutes is run by the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order founded by Mother Teresa. It is the place people are brought when it is clear they are going to die, but they have no one to care for them and no money to pay for someone to care for them. So the people there are truly the poorest of the poor.

I had met Mother Teresa years ago when I was traveling through India, at least ten years before Heart to Heart was started. I witnessed the compassion she and the others had for poor people and vowed that I would return to work alongside her in some way. In fact, I told her that I would come back with medicine to help ease the pain of these people. Maybe the medicine could save some lives, I told her. She smiled, thanked me, and shook my hand. She pointed to a box of outdated medicines that someone had collected and sent.

 

Chapter 3: Look in Your Hand

ePub

29

If you don’t let me serve you, I’ll die.

Madame Babette Hersant1


When I joined the Army Reserves in 1993, I didn’t do it because I was pro-war, or because I thought that waging war was noble. I joined the Reserves because of the opportunity I had as a doctor to ease the suffering that war causes. As an Army doctor, I care not only for our soldiers but also for civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as for those we call “the enemy.”

In 2000 I was deployed to Kosovo, after NATO bombings brought the hostilities between the Albanians and the Serbs to a standstill. My unit first went to Fort Benning, Georgia, where we were trained in matters such as laws of war, clearing an area of land mines, weapon proficiency, and the historical roots of the Balkans conflicts. We were assigned battle gear, complete with flak vests and Kevlar helmets. Then we were shipped off to Kosovo.

I worked in the mobile hospital at Camp Bondsteel, a seven-square-mile sprawling complex of tents, permanent structures, fences, and every imaginable type of military vehicle. The camp accommodated ten thousand soldiers. Helicopters constantly took off and landed. Every few hundred yards there were towers from which heavily armed lookouts scanned the woods and roads surrounding the camp. Camp Bondsteel was a self-contained city. It provided its own water, sewage, and sanitation, fire and police, laundry, food and hospital services, and even jail. There was a chapel, a movie theater, a store, a library, a barbershop (all hair styles were the same—short!) and a coffee bar.

 

Chapter 4: Give what You Can

ePub

43

Doing a thing because you feel wonderful about it—even a work of charity—is in the end a selfish act. We perform the work not to feel wonderful but to know and love the other.

Father Joe Warrillow1


When the devastating tsunami hit Sri Lanka and Indonesia on December 26, 2004, I knew we had to do something to help the people most affected by the disaster. Our long-term partner in responses to situations like this has been FedEx and, within hours of the news, FedEx executives called to say they had cargo planes available to take supplies to the area as soon as we were ready.

Because disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis occur with some regularity, relief agencies know how to react quickly and efficiently. Transportation companies like FedEx and Yellow Freight, along with pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson, have something to offer when they partner with organizations that can get the materials into the right hands.

Responses from these companies underscore my feeling that most people want to help others. What often keeps them from doing so is that they don’t know how, or that they don’t think that what they have to offer would be helpful. FedEx offers us empty planes. Yellow Freight offers us empty trucks. Other organizations offer us things to put in those planes and trucks—all with the desire to serve others.

 

Chapter 5: Think Small

ePub

53

You can spend half of your time alone, but you also have to be in service, or you get a little funny.

Anne Lamott1


We had just pushed back from the dinner table when we heard a horn honking out front. Maybe I read something in Pete O’Neal’s body language that wasn’t really there. But when you’re a fugitive do you ever stop being jumpy?

In my neighborhood, a honking horn is no cause for concern. It usually means someone hasn’t figured out how to use the car alarm. When you’re in the African bush, though, miles from any paved road, surrounded by mud and grass huts, living as Africans have lived for centuries, and you’re the only one who owns a vehicle, a honking horn gets your attention.

Someone wanted to get to Pete’s house badly enough to endure miles of bone-jarring cattle paths full of rain-carved ruts in the dark. Pete, his face lined with concern, looked at his wife Charlotte. She shrugged. So much was said in that wordless exchange. Who would drive out here? Why? Who knows we’re here? How did they find us? What do they want?

 

Chapter 6: Be there

ePub

69

We don’t have to find the cure for cancer to make a difference to the world. . . we only have to share our lives with other people.

Rabbi Harold Kushner1


I have always been an advocate of crossing lines that keep people from helping one another. Those lines may be intangible barriers such as social status, or physical ones, such as an ocean. I am convinced that one of the reasons certain groups of people aren’t cared for is that we simply never think of them. That’s why, on many of our airlifts, we try to find groups of people to visit that would not be obvious. Then, when our volunteers return to their home towns, they are much more aware of those who are out on the margins of our attention. Once people see how easy it is to cross cultural and economic lines on these airlifts, many readily do the same as part of their lifestyles when they get home.

There were obvious lines to cross in the facilities run by Mother Teresa in Calcutta. The people there were suffering, and they were placed in specific facilities everyone could easily find.

 

Chapter 7: Lose to Win

ePub

81

We knew that we had nothing to lose except for our so ridiculously naked lives.

Viktor Frankl1


Tom and Dana Larson were used to winning. Tom was an advertising copywriter in the Denver area, producing successful ad campaigns for McDonald’s, Safeway, and the Denver International Airport. He got the attention of the advertising world with his “Normal People Like Us, Too,” campaign for the Denver Art Museum. For his successes, he won the Denver Advertising Federation’s Best in Show award.

Dana Larson, Tom’s wife, led recruitment teams for accounting and high-tech companies in the Denver area. She had established herself as a skillful, and driven, head hunter. Dana got the employees she wanted and the deals she wanted.

The problem was, the Larsons were unhappy. Even the thrill of Tom’s winning the advertising award was short-lived.

“I went into the office that next Monday,” Tom said, “and there we all were, sitting around the table discussing accounts, just as we had every other Monday. Nothing had changed, and I realized it was never going to change.”

 

Chapter 8: Love Anyway

ePub

91

Love your enemies.

Jesus of Nazareth1


Watching the news about the U.S. war in Iraq, I became resigned to the fact that I would get the inevitable phone call, as happened during the war in Kosovo. It came in January 2004: “Sir, we’ve received orders on you, and you’re being sent to Iraq.”

Because I had expected to get called up, I’d been meeting with the folks at Heart to Heart and also with Docs Who Care, a medical group that provides emergency room doctors to small, under-served communities. Even though I knew the order was coming, the two weeks’ notice certainly helped get my priorities in order!

Pre-mobilization occurred at Fort Bliss, Texas, and included anthrax and smallpox vaccinations, weapons practice, briefings, equipment procurement (including a gas mask and chemical protective suit), a new ID card containing DNA samples for identification, and tons of paperwork.

With mixed emotions, I headed for Iraq. When I was deployed as an Army Reserve doctor to Kosovo, NATO bombings had brought the hostilities between the Albanians and the Serbs to a standstill. Things remained tense, but the war was not raging as it was in Iraq. I shed many tears as I said goodbye to my wife and children, my family and friends, my church and the terrific people with whom I work. But, while my heart was heavy, it was also full of love and life and peace and purpose. To be honest, I felt excited and enthusiastic.

 

Chapter 9: Pull out the Arrow

ePub

105

If one comes across a person who has been shot by an arrow, one does not spend time wondering about where the arrow came from, or the caste of the individual who shot it, or analyzing what type of wood the shaft is made of, or the manner in which the arrowhead was fashioned. Rather, one should focus on immediately pulling out the arrow.

Shakyamuni, the Buddha1


One of my favorite places to practice medicine is in the high mountains of Papua, New Guinea, among the most ancient civilizations in the world. It is a population that was discovered by planes flying over the mountains during World War II. Every few years I get to visit their clinics, which have none of the conveniences of modern hospitals.

Some of the villages where I work take days to reach. A small plane deposits me on a rudimentary airstrip, and then it’s another one or two days’ hike into the jungle to reach the hospital. The tribes in these jungles have been at war with one another for thousands of years. And, while some of the villages have electricity and cars, they still settle their tribal differences with their weapon of choice: the bow and arrow.

 

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