Change and Kindness

Me and some kids from Camp MO on Sunday

Me and some kids from Camp MO on Sunday

I’ve often thought about why we are so intrigued by change. We always want change to take place faster than it does, investing emotionally in the artificially quick transformations of fictional characters in movies or on TV. Ultimately, a person changing quickly is harder to find than media might make it seem. We are entranced by stories of people that have managed to emerge from difficult circumstances through willpower and seized opportunities, and we value even more the narratives of those that made an abrupt about-face for the better and stuck to it.

Although I’ve been at Contact for a relatively short period of time as a summer intern, I can see that the work of the Contact team is rewarded by nearly imperceptible changes in the people that they serve. While efforts made in the church building are definitely essential to serving our community, Contact also relies heavily on work done in homes, on the ground. When I go visiting with Ron or the other interns, I am reminded of the fact that people are often more honest in their native environments. Praying together on the couch, discussing dinner plans, prayer life, family problems, and any interesting object within view creates a cohesive mosaic that represents that life and faith are not separate. Visiting the kids and their families in their natural contexts helps explain why negative worldviews are less easily altered and why a sense of low self-efficacy prevails.

We recently returned from our annual middle school camp, Camp MO (a.k.a. Camp Good-Luck-Out-There). To be completely honest, I wasn’t all the way glad to be there until the last full day of camp. I had earned a ridiculous number of bug bites on every place that I hadn’t sprayed my Deep Woods spray after showering the night before. We had battled defiant attitudes for a couple of hours before finally reaching peaceful sleep. I wasn’t glad just because I was going home soon, but because I finally came to the realization that I was being forced to practice the kind of costly kindness that God wants, the kind that I’ve seen the full-time Contact staff practice over and over. Costly kindness is extending encouragement even when it may be ignored, taken for granted, or even scorned.

I learned that week that I am not as resilient or as patient as I had previously believed myself to be, and that gratitude is not necessarily a natural reaction to receiving a gift. But I also learned that being kind is exceptionally rewarding when reciprocated by those for whom kindness is not second-nature. During a Bible class I was helping lead, I used the age-old example of the Good Samaritan to illustrate kindness to a group of girls. I asked if they would be kind to someone they thought was annoying or gross and a few of the girls offered a loud and definite “NO!” One of the same girls later diligently complied with something I asked her to do and I nearly fell over I was so surprised. The week after, when visiting her back in Tulsa, she told me that now she liked me, even though I had been mean at camp. Now again, I’m out of her good graces. Maybe change feels more like a pendulum swing than a positive trend line.

The same day that I had helped teach that kindness lesson, I had been feeling pretty useless and inadequate. We had given the kids slips of paper with kind words written on them to give to each other that day. I’d anticipated that the girls would either immediately lose them or only give the words to their best friends, but just as I was mentally saying something negative about myself, Phoenix, one of the campers, handed me a slip of paper that said “keep being who you are.” 

After coming back from MO, I would likely define change differently than I would have just a week prior. That definition would now include kindness; change is a result of intentional kindness and accepted opportunities paired with the commitment to change.

I don’t mean to imply that kindness and change are a one-way street at Contact, or any other place, because the distinction between those who serve and are served is not always so clear. I know that my own habits and paradigm of life are slowly shifting as each day I gain experience and understanding, as long as I keep my eyes and mind open. I hope to continue to learn, to offer and accept unselfish kindness for God’s purposes, and to glorify God with my daily acts while I’m here at Contact.

- Audrey Brock

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. - James 1:12