I spent the summer of 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri, working for a missions organization that staffed and ran student mission trips all over the country. Every Monday we would go to the Plaza, which was essentially an outdoor shopping mall similar to Atlantic Station in Atlanta, or East Cobb’s Avenue. The Plaza was so expensive, I’m pretty sure I got charged five dollars just for window shopping.
One Monday night in the middle of the summer, I was feeling a little exhausted after working 18-20 hour days and wanted to treat myself to some dessert after the students went to bed. So I went to the Cheesecake Factory and bought a slice of cheesecake. I was with several students walking around the Plaza with my decadent treat in a plastic bag. Most of the students started asking me if they could have a bite, and I was like, “Absolutely not! this is for after y’all go to bed ‘cause I need a little pick-me-up this week.”
After walking around for a bit, we would always meet the entire group at a fountain at the edge of the Plaza. It was an interesting dichotomy because you’d look into the shopping area and see excess and luxury, and everything you would expect in a nice clean city. Then you would turn around and there could be 5-10 homeless people sitting around the fountain or taking a nap. This drastic change in scenery always led to interesting conversations about the nature of poverty in the city and why there could be such a contrast in such close proximity. While I was holding on to this plastic bag full of cheesecake and talking with some of the group, I felt a nudge in my spirit to go and talk with a group of homeless men who were sitting in a circle. I sat down and started to chat and looked over to see a group of 15 teenagers running to join us. We didn’t change the homeless situation and we didn’t get them off the street or change their lives, but we had a conversation in the hopes of giving them worth and dignity.
As we were about to leave, I was saying goodbye to the men when I realized that I had this piece of cake burning in my possession. It wasn’t much, but I knew I should offer it to them. When I made the offer they didn’t hesitate before pointing to a man lying down just down the hill from us. They told me his name was Charlie, and that he needed the cake more than they did. So we ran down the hill to give Charlie the piece of cheesecake and prayed for him.
It’s this story of sacrifice and grace that still affects me a decade later. This story of Charlie and the homeless men of Kansas City reminds me daily that my job title might be Student Ministry Associate, but my job is to ensure that people understand that every story matters. Your story matters, you matter, the life experiences you’ve had and things you’ve learned matter to God. It’s my calling to help others understand that each individual in this world is created in the image of God and has infinite worth. Because we all have infinite worth and we need to help them understand that their stories matter.
Too often people walk through life thinking they are insignificant and the mundane details of their lives don’t matter. But they do matter. Each mundane detail in a day thought of as wasted can save a life when living genuinely actually matters. When we stack up tiny acts with a missionary mindset, we make up a mountain of mercy.
So here’s your task today—two things that will make a world of a difference to the Kingdom of God: Number one, remember that your story matters, that God loves you so much, and however deep and wide you think His love is, it’s always more. Number two, show someone else that their story matters by listening to them. Next time you’re in a conversation, be in it. Don’t just wait until they’re done so you have a chance to talk. Truly listen. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes of the faith, once wrote: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, they forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
Today, remember and thank God that you matter to Him, you matter to this world. Then give that gift to someone else. Because every story matters.