The Service of Listening

“Aunty Kristin, Aunty Kristin! I have an assignment… I have a wound… I am not well… I want to talk to you a minute… someone came to see you… can you go visit this sick person… etc.” These interruptions seem to happen on a daily, and even hourly basis.  People constantly interrupt the email I am writing, the spreadsheet I am putting together, or the planning period for a teaching session.  I love the Word Made Flesh lifestyle celebration of service.  More than anything, I want to “do” something for Jesus and “do” something to make the world a better place.  I whole heartedly embrace the idea of service as activity, as task, as accomplishment.  This constant flow of people and interruptions become so frustrating as I focus on the completion of my task.  Yet, I wonder at times if I’m missing something.

Living in Sierra Leone, I’ve been thrust into a culture that values relationships so much more than tasks and what I am doing.  I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mayou Angelou “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”  And I have been thinking about how my zeal for service and accomplishment might make people feel.  As I rush around accomplishing tasks and people come to me, they begin to feel like a bother, like an interruption, and like they are not important enough for my time.  I always sympathized with Martha as she complained to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  And Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”  How can sitting down to listen possibly be better than accomplishing tasks? Yet somehow, as I watch and live among the Sierra Leonian people, see the beauty and interdependence of their culture, and experience the sense of community, I begin to notice how often they stop for relationships.  They stop on their way to a meeting; they leave a task unattended to listen to someone. Instead of starting a task, they sit down because someone dropped by.  What can look like inactivity, lack of motivation, or even a lack of punctuality to my western eyes, is the building and development of relationships that are at the heart of the Gospel.  Can listening really be the better option?  I realize this is also a very important aspect of service — the service of listening.

Kristin Bacher grew up in South Alabama, but for the past four and a half years has lived and served among the Kroo Bay Community.  She met her wonderful husband, Karlin, during her time in Sierra Leone.  She enjoys music, using her nursing talents, being outdoors, and loves the beautiful beaches and people of Sierra Leone.



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