Salaam alaikum! I could begin by saying that among the sundry wondrous and exciting experiences of this semester, one stands out, and that’s what I’ll write about… but that would be a lie. So many of the experiences define themselves as “unique in a lifetime” that they almost begin to blend together. But in the interest of time, I’ll choose one.
Each Tuesday, I’ve taken a taxi to the Desert Rose Holy Lands Designs olive wood workshop for my service project. Each Tuesday, I’ve been surprised by what I get to work on and touched by how God uses the time. I entered the service project ecstatic with enthusiasm (I love woodworking), and the projects I have been given have not disappointed my joy. Some days I’ve made coat toggles on the lathe, and other days I have been occupied turning out wooden beads on the drill press.
My true love lay with the laser cutter, though. With one hundred watts of concentrated photons, the beast can cut through thick wood like butter. Many days have been spent engulfed in the smoke and haze of the laser room, carefully tending the machine as it eats up fresh olive wood slabs and spits out final products blackened by the power of the laser. I thought it strange that I could stay in the same room for four hours straight, doing the same thing every few minutes, and yet not bore myself or become weary of the work. The power of the laser is mesmerising, enticing, captivating.
As I fed the great machine its daily rations of olive wood one day, I began to ponder service (it was a service project, after all). Entering the service project, I had some idea that service should be the use of skills or knowledge to improve the entity you serve in some permanent manner. Examples I thought often of were roofing and painting houses for people unable to do so, or installing clean water systems in impoverished countries. These were both instances of people of greater qualification producing lasting effect on the communities they served.
While watching the tiny red dot of laser light devour another victim, I was struck by how much this service project was out of alignment with my conception of service. I was certainly not the most qualified person to make olive wood beads, and operating the laser cutter was as simple as the push of a button (not entirely, but the idea is there). Nothing I was doing would make a permanent improvement to how the business was run, and most of my work would be finished and sold on the next shipment to America. What, then, was I doing? In the most literal sense, the effects of my service were as transient as the wood passing the laser machine.
In the wood-scented haze of the laser cutter room, God showed me true service. Service that is true is not oriented around accomplishing something lasting but around helping out where the project needs you the most. Certainly, this might involve making permanent improvements to your place of service or operating as the most qualified person for the job. But equally likely, service might just mean doing someone’s work for them, so they can work on other things. You may know you are qualified for other things. But service, true service, is as easy as feeding the laser cutter one more time.
Joshua Dunbar, junior student of chemistry at Wheaton College (IL)