Making a difference by volunteering

John A. Braun

What’s your story?

Six years is a long time. On May 22, 2011, a tornado swept through Joplin, Missouri, and left a wide path of rubble. One hundred and fifty-eight people died as a direct result of the storm. Over a thousand were injured, and damages totaled $2.8 billion. It was the costliest single tornado in US history.

The next day, cars and trucks were filled with the curious driving by to see the damage from the storm. But a more important event took place that same day. Volunteers came, ready to provide help and aid to the victims.

Why volunteer?

Tiffani and Andy Zeller were among those volunteers who wanted to help after the storm. They had two small children at the time and lived about 10 minutes from the path of the tornado. Tiffani says, “The greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. If you love people and see them struggling, you do whatever you can.” That’s just what volunteers do when faced with opportunities to serve.

Both of the Zellers have a great attitude about Christian volunteers. Andy says, “Volunteering is a command; God commands us to go out and help. We do it not because we feel guilty but to show our appreciation for what God has done for us. He gave us a Savior. You do it to return thanks to him.”

Tiffani prayed for a way to help more. Pregnant and with two small children, she felt limited. The Lord answered her prayer. WELS Christian Aid and Relief organized volunteers from around the country to come to Joplin to help. The Zellers had room to house them while they were there. Those volunteers left in the morning, worked all day, returned to the Zellers’ home, talked about their work, had a devotion, and slept on the floor to be ready for the next day.

What the Zellers found was that volunteering “turns the love in on you,” says Andy. “It was definitely rewarding. Sometimes God does amazing things with allowing you to connect with people and allowing them to connect with you. You just don’t know how he is going to use the situation that he has put in front of you.” After two weeks, the volunteers returned home with memories of the people they had touched.

It was an opportunity to let their light shine and show compassion. They had an opportunity to show love to others. They had an opportunity to witness. They had an opportunity to listen to the stories of the people who lost so much. Even if you don’t see the benefit, God is at work and there will be some benefit. If you are a first-time volunteer, you may feel a bit apprehensive, but the experience will be rewarding and definitely will help others.

What are the opportunities?

Christian Aid and Relief has created volunteer disaster relief teams to help in times of trouble. Their efforts have assisted victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York City; hurricanes in Florida, Louisiana, the Caribbean, and New York; tornados in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Nebraska; and flooding in Colorado, just to name a few. The list never ends with a period; unlike a sentence, their work continues.

But you don’t need to wait for a tornado or disaster to volunteer. And you don’t have to be handy with a chainsaw or hammer. Tiffani reminds all volunteers, “There are always ways to help. God hasn’t blessed us with the same gifts. We just use the gifts he gave.”

This article is about more than the volunteers who reach out when difficulties and hardships hit the headlines. It’s also about looking more carefully at where God has placed you. What opportunities does God put in your path? How can you reach out in compassion and concern for others?

The challenge is to open our eyes to see the possibilities. We can organize to show our compassion, as we do through WELS Christian Aid and Relief. Christian Aid and Relief brings Christ’s compassion to places in our country where it is needed and also reaches out to help with international crises. If you cannot go yourself, you can contribute gifts so others can go or so that aid can get to places that need it. Learn more about these opportunities at

Open your eyes to see what opportunities God has placed before you in your own local area. Is your congregation able to show compassion to the poor, hungry, thirsty, or homeless? What about those in prison or in need of clothing? What can you do? Jesus commends his people for their compassion (Matthew 25). Open your eyes to see the possibilities.

Your congregation needs volunteers for other things too. Cutting the grass, shoveling snow, serving on a committee, and teaching Sunday school or vacation Bible school are just a few of the possibilities. Congregations depend on volunteers. What gifts has the Lord given you? What opportunities has the Lord placed before you to serve him and others?

Look also at the people around you. The friend who needs a word of encouragement or comfort. The neighbor who needs help with the grass or snow. Everyone needs help at some point in some way. Identify the people in your life and in your congregation that need help. Be the Samaritan. Open your eyes to see the possibilities and do whatever you can.

Don’t forget your voluntary gifts! You won’t get a robot call from our organizations, our churches, our synod asking for your donations. We give because our love for Jesus motivates us to give. We always have opportunity to give when we hear there’s a need. When it’s not possible to volunteer to do the work ourselves, it is possible to volunteer a gift to help the work of sharing Jesus and showing compassion through our works of charity.

What is your story?

The Zellers found a way to volunteer and help. That’s their story. What’s your story? As you think about volunteering, take it to the Lord in prayer. Maybe it’s a prayer for you to see the possibilities before you. Maybe you already see the possibilities and need the Lord’s strength and direction to help. If you find an opportunity or a challenge, maybe you can talk to someone about it and they can join you or help you find a solution.

The experience of the Zellers is that the Lord rewarded them in ways they did not expect. Their encouragement is simple, “Just go out and do it. The Lord will bless you.”

So what will your story be?

John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

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