Sweet Home Alabama

Everyone has been out of their element at one point or another: moving into their college dorm, the first day at a new job, traveling to a foreign country. It is overwhelming, and frankly it can be down-right terrifying.

photo by Elliot McCandless

photo by Elliot McCandless

About a month ago, I was in one of those situations. One of those out-of-my-element, oh-my-gosh, I-feel-lost, is-that-person-looking-at-me-weird situations. I was in the Blackbelt of Alabama, working with my peers and the community, to best serve this sweet town. It was no secret coming in that I was from an extremely different background, having grown up in the Midwest. (O-H, anyone?)

I was part of a group of students who had the opportunity to create projects to implement in the small community. We got to pair with community partners, work with local students, and offer manual labor services to try to help the town. We were all working in different areas—education, economics, healthcare, local engagement. I was nervous and did not understand how I was going to be able to relate and serve them. This was a small rural area, and I come from a large suburb. The people I was working with were different ages, genders, races, and just about everything else. You see, I was letting the facts speak. And they were talking really loud.

It was quickly revealed to me how unqualified the world told me I was in regards to what I was trying to accomplish. I constantly was wrapped up in my thoughts, my own self-doubt, looking at the facts that didn’t seem to align with what I so desired. I was a 19 year-old, Caucasian, undergraduate student from Suburbia in the Midwest, trying to work with microfinances in rural Alabama. I thought deeply about this, around the third day I was there, and boy, I wish I hadn’t.

I woke up in the mornings already defeated. I woke up knowing that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough, personable enough, old enough, or talented enough to try to pull off my project. I woke up with short patience, and a mind that was in 300 other places. I was easily tired, short-tempered with my partner, and constantly with a pounding headache.

I was waking up in the world. I could look around and see businesses failing, unemployment rising, education worsening. I met students with desire and drive, but didn’t have the resources to get to the next level. The world was showing me statistics and heartbreaking stories, whereas the successes weren’t being noted. I was working with my own strength and felt bogged down by expectations. I was waking up with the classifications, assumptions and attitudes the world had given me. (Which at this point, they weren’t much of a gift.) I forgot one of the greatest gifts I had been given: Jesus.

The ultimate King of the Universe gifted me with life. With breath, the ability to work hard, the ability to love. He gave me freedom. And when He gave me freedom, the chains fell. I was no longer looking at what did and didn’t align in my favor, but rather looking at who did.

Jesus was on my team, and I couldn’t think of a better captain. Jesus doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. He’s not one of the dodge ball captains in your middle school gym class: pacing back and forth, looking for the tallest, yet fastest, kid to recruit on his team. He doesn’t put us in a line and size us up.

He qualifies the called. Those ready to serve and love. Those with ambition. His sons and daughters. He gives them the tools they need, the strength they need, the abilities they need to do His work.

Re-energized and ready to serve, I went out in the community with fresh eyes, knowing that everyone has a basic need for love and encouragement. Instead of viewing the homeless man as another statistic or distant person, I was equipped with eyes to view him as a friend, a brother in the ultimate Kingdom.

New perspectives showed me new results. In loving people and looking to learn more about them, I was able to better work with them. You can’t always give people the financial or material items they need, but you can treat them how they’re thought of: which is cherished and precious.


StoriesErica Boden