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The Call to Love: Mission Work and the Service of the Lord

Encountering the sunrise on Waimanalo Beach is one of the most incredible experiences. The Hawaiian breeze brushes across my face as the sun’s rays peek from the horizon. God orchestrates a symphony as the waves crash against each other, blending with the tune of the red-tailed tropicbirds. He swipes His fingers over the dark cloudy canvas with the most striking yellows, oranges, and reds. As I grab handfuls of sand and let them cascade through my fingers, I experience God’s extraordinary masterpiece. But amidst this paradisal landscape, one vexing question echoes in my mind: What am I really doing here?


Traveling 4,500 miles away from my quiet Ohio country home to the populated tropical rock of Oahu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I experienced quite a cultural shift. Fresh out of high school, I had no intention of going to Hawaii, but I knew I wanted to serve God by doing mission work. None of my research about where to go or what to do led me to the West Coast. After spending a month in Hawaii with my family, Father Anastasi Saint Anthony, who was searching for a mission coordinator, suggested for me to take on this role and offered that I live at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church for however long I could. For the first time in my life, God’s will for my next step was incredibly clear to me.


As my time in Hawaii began, I quickly learned that I would be receiving much more than those I hoped to serve. My suspicions that I would be a student of humility were quickly realized as I began to encounter mentors and teachers in the form of all kinds of people. Indeed, the true diversity of people lies in gifts, not in color. Little Tony taught me that joyfulness does not depend on circumstances; Uncle Mako taught me that true humility lies in understanding creation; Ten-year-old Mikey taught me that every human being is beautiful, as he excitedly introduced me to every adult and child at his shelter; Abbi helped me recognize that seemingly insurmountable tribulations can be overcome with the Lord Jesus Christ.


As I continued serving that year, I found myself in a constant state of awe at the vibrancy of God’s creations — in both Hawaii’s beautiful scenery and its beautiful people. I often contemplated what my real purpose was for being in Hawaii. I wished to help others, but felt foolish, as it seemed that I was doing all the receiving: making food for the homeless felt like a tremendously uneven trade when compared to the deep lessons I was learning; playing tag with orphaned children did not feel like mission work, as it was just as fun for me as it was for them; the conversations I had with indigenous youth while planting and weeding Taro plants were eye-opening and fulfilling. Realizing my duties as mission coordinator seemed to me to be the only way I was helping.


I encountered many kinds of people as various groups arrived to the island throughout the year. Some volunteers signed up for mission work and possessed an easily-identifiable sincere heart keen on service, while others came hoping to enjoy a vacation disguised as mission work. I realized Oahu can become a stumbling block for the foolish because the temptation for the pleasures of this world is stronger there. To counteract and avoid these pitfalls in myself, I had to define for myself what mission work truly entails. As I compared the behaviors of these various groups, I concluded that mission work has nothing to do with the self, requiring instead a complete denial of the pleasures of the world in order to find and serve Christ and His people. Human nature defaults to serving the self, but the Lord Jesus Christ commands us to deny ourselves (see Matthew 16:24). How can I give measly sandwiches to the poor and then have sushi soon thereafter? How can I find Christ in Poke restaurants, luaus, or Waikiki’s glamorous shopping malls? As Uncle Jonathan taught me, finding Christ — finding Love — requires forgetting myself so I can witness Him in His creation — in His children and in nature. It was in the poorest of the poor that I found Christ.


Waikiki, Hawaii (like many major cities) is divided between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. Spending time with both groups, I learned that it is the rich who are poorer than the poor. Amongst the homeless, I felt a great fulfillment because many of them were Christian and had a sense of purpose in Christ. Their joy was not dependent upon their circumstances. I was uplifted. During these times, I remembered my own home and community in Ohio and realized that people in my own city, while financially stable and of a “respectable” socioeconomic status, are in many ways poorer than those poor men and women I saw and with whom I interacted, albeit in a different way: while some do lack money, many others lack purpose and true kinship.


Of all the lessons I learned during my time in Hawaii, perhaps the greatest lesson about mission and love came from Uncle Jonathan. We met at the littered park of Waikiki, which was full of men, women, and children with skin blemishes and scorched sun marks sound asleep on their beds of grass. The scents of the salty ocean breeze and sunscreen mixed with the distant but distinct smell of urine. As I stepped aside from the group to answer a call from another organization and shield myself from the scorching sun, I locked eyes with this smiley elderly man. When I noticed him hobbling toward me with a shopping cart full of all he owned (a popular way for the homeless to carry their belongings there), I quickly ended my phone call and met him halfway. In his cart were a few booklets about Christ, an old worn-out Bible, a notebook in similar condition, some food cans, two water bottles, a small bag with three stale pieces of bread, a thin blanket neatly folded, and a flimsy, ineffective pillow. His eyes crinkled as he smiled again, and, without saying a word, he bent over his cart and fished around. I did not know what he was doing until he shakily reached for my hand, turned it so my palm faced upward, and placed into it a water bottle and a piece of bread. Too awestruck by his self-denying gesture to do anything but blink, I remained silent. As he turned to find the next recipient of his generosity, I jerked back to life and stepped alongside him to return the bread and water, assuring him that I did not need anything and thanking him for what he did. I explained that I was with the organization that was currently handing out sandwiches. He responded with a quiet belly laugh, so hearty that I could not help but laugh too. So began an unlikely friendship. He explained his situation and how he was introduced to Christianity. We sat on the park bench eating our sandwiches. He spoke about his life and I spoke about mine. He was frequently the one to comfort me when he saw the tears welling up in my eyes as I heard him recount his suffering. I could not bear his selflessness. Little did I know, this would be the first of many encounters with Uncle Jonathan. Throughout the year, he taught me many lessons, but the theme that shined through all of his stories and actions was merely love. I learned that the only requirement to do mission work, or any type of service for Christ’s sake, is to love. Uncle Jonathan, who had very close to nothing, denied himself to give me what little he had. Love.


I feel that I must debunk the myth that one must travel to exotic places to do mission work. I must assert that these journeys change us more than those we intend to help. When we travel for the sake of mission work for two weeks and return to the comfort of fancy cars, memory foam pillows, and air-conditioned homes, we forget about the call to serve. The habit of service has not yet solidified in us. We forget that our own cities, communities, neighbors, and even our families are in need. Our local homeless shelters and orphanages are just as in need as the dry side of Oahu. The call to serve is the call to love. Are not all acts of service simply acts of love? St. Peter wrote, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:8-10).


There is a different type of mission service that does not require preaching the gospel or giving food to the homeless. It is to reach out to those in despair and loneliness — those with no purpose. It is simply to love. It is as easy as sending a text to a struggling friend, letting them know that you are praying for them, or buying your coworker a coffee because yesterday was a rough day, or holding a screaming baby so the mother can rest for fifteen minutes. Real love is fearless. It is to see people as Christ sees them. There are many ways within our own reach to minister every day without needing to say a word. Mother Teresa declared, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”


Mindlessly spilling the sand back and forth between my fingers, I sat before God’s exquisite masterpiece and pondered my purpose. Serving in Hawaii for a year was a beautiful adventure that God arranged for me. Service, humility, and love were redefined for me. The call to serve did not end with my trip, but was all the more magnified by the experience. I learned I can continue that call right here from my quiet country home. No matter the exotic opportunities given to me, God’s work is not done. The Lord declared, “For you have the poor with you always.” (Matthew 26:11) He did not profess, “His poor are only in far-off lands across oceans.” The needs of God’s children are plentiful everywhere because sin and corruption produce poverty everywhere. No one is exempt from sin, but love is its antidote.


To serve (anywhere) is to love.


Cover Image: Sunrise over Waimanalo Beach, captured by Anastasia Bibawy. Image Original.


Anastasia Bibawy was mission coordinator at The Hawaiian Mission for one year following high school. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree and hopes to one day open a music studio to teach children how to play the violin.

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