When I was in high school, I was a very new Catholic, trying to find ways to implement my faith. I knew that service was at the core but I was not sure how to apply that. Our parish had been involved with Group Workcamp Foundations, an ecumenical Christian organization that provides opportunities for teenagers to get involved in service. What we did was we went as a parish to complete a project that could be finished within the span of a week. For example, we may be painting someone's house or building a wheelchair ramp. To accomplish this, we were placed in work crews of other teens from different churches, backgrounds, regions of the country, you name it. In addition, we were immersed in our faith. Prayer/praise and worship in both morning and evening, devotions at lunch, and, for all of us Catholics, Mass at least three times that week (not including Sunday, provided our priest came with us. Yeah, that was a lot of church ;-)). The point of the trip was not necessarily to completely restore a broken neighborhood, but to learn how our values and beliefs translated into action.
Despite the heavy immersion of our faith, we never proselytized. It was completely contrary to our values to force people to pray, even suggest conversion or make passing out Bibles as our primary mission. Really, more than our religion, more than construction, we were supposed to get to know people, to see them as nothing less than human beings like ourselves, despite the obstacles they faced in life, despite the presence of money or how readily they accepted us. That went for both our residents and our work crews. The point of the week was to open our eyes to people's realities, to come to new understandings, and to learn who we are outside of markers such as social status and privilege.
Looking back, I am eternally grateful for the three years I participated. Those lessons, experiences, memories, and emotions have remained with me in ways I could not begin to comprehend. As I examine issues of poverty, privilege, values (Christian or non-Christian, Global North vs. Global South), I will take these with me. I think we all need to constantly examine our motives and values, to realize what truly helps rather than make ourselves out to be saviors (and thus hurt more than help). The world is not the white man's burden, it is everyone's blessing and one all must fight for to see that it is truly cherished and valued. We have this common duty, this privilege. Let's take advantage of it.