This summer was my 22nd working for DOOR. I have had the opportunity to witness many amazing things. DOOR has grown from a Denver-only program to a national network. Over the years we have hosted more than 41,000 participants, representing most states and many Canadian provinces. I remember when purchasing a pager so that people could get ahold of me quickly was the height of technology. I felt so important with a pager hanging from my belt! Today the cell phones our staff have can do almost everything and connect to people in so many different ways, from a traditional phone call to Snap Chatting.
Through all of these years, one thing has remained the same. People come to DOOR to serve because they want to make a difference. This is one of the primary reasons why I have stuck around for over two decades; I want to make a difference.
In recent years a fundamental shift in my perspective has caused me to ask a new set of questions. For decades, and probably longer, a common assumption about mission and service was that communities need people to come to serve and do mission. Without their service, needs would go unmet.
Groups come to DOOR’s cities to make a difference. They serve at soup counters, help with summer day camps, sort food for distribution, and fix-up the homes of the needy. This is all important work. It isn’t unusual to have group leaders want their groups to do more or work harder. In their minds doing more and working harder is what makes a difference.
What I have begun to observe, I am sure this was true 22 years ago, is that people want to serve food to the hungry, but they don’t really want to know why people are food insecure in the first place. When the question does get raised, it is raised in a strangely rhetorical way that says I know the answer. The answer is quite often tied to popular stereotypes. The poor are poor because really they are lazy.
When our city directors suggest that soup counters, poor quality housing, and the need for tutoring programs have their roots in systems and structures designed to keep the poor needy, the responses are interesting.
Talking about why seems too political. People want to come and serve, but they don’t want to confront all the ways they may be participating in a system that keeps the privileged in their position of power and ensures a permanent underclass. Folks choose to serve in programs like DOOR because they want to do some good in the world. They don’t come to find out they may be the problem.
The hard work of making difference isn’t taking a week off and going somewhere to serve. The real work is looking in the mirror, owning how we participate in a system that ensures and reinforces poverty, racism, classism, and sexism and then choosing to work for change so that all people are treated as if they are made in the image and likeness of God.