“Akka, can I tell you a joke?” she asks, pulling out a neatly-folded newspaper from her backpack.
“Okay, sure,” I respond.
“What do you call security guards outside a Samsung store?” she continues eagerly.
“Hmm… I don’t know. What?”
“Guardians of the Galaxy!” comes her answer.
Lavanya, all of 10 years old, with bright eyes and a pixie haircut that perfectly fits her slight frame, continues to read from the newspaper. It’s time for another joke.
Jokes that she doesn’t always get. Lavanya is one of 23 girls at an orphanage in Bangalore. She lives in a two-bedroom house with chirpy posters and plastic chairs, a couple of old cupboards and shelves weighed down by 23 heavy backpacks. She’s probably never seen a Samsung Galaxy S6. She’s probably never heard of Star Wars. But whether she gets the joke or not, Lavanya is keen to share a few laughs with me.
Lavanya and I have been working on her Science lessons, as part of a volunteer programme that benefits underprivileged children. We decide to take a 10-minute breather between the sections on sedimentary rocks and the igneous kind. (Remember those? I didn’t either!) I sneak her some M&Ms and she entertains me with the funnies from her backpack.
I try to steer her back to her Science lesson. But she’s not quite done with the jokes and riddles.
Because on Tuesday afternoons, I am Lavanya’s community. Our two hours together may technically be about Science, but in fact, it’s so much more. It’s about building a relationship as little sister and akka (big sister), it’s helping her gain confidence, it’s helping grow her world and understanding – and it’s helping grow mine too.
Most often, we look for community that’s exactly like us. You may have heard the acronym WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, the somewhat humourous term used to describe the privileged sections of America. Maybe, we need specialised terms for the Christian community in India too. Perhaps, BESC for Brown English-Speaking Churchgoers.
We tend to gravitate toward people similar to us. And that’s perfectly fine.
But what if instead of always seeking community that’s wired like us, we choose to be someone else’s community? What if we step out of the BESC zone to include those who may not know of Star Wars or have access to a Samsung Galaxy?
We may go in with a “there’s nothing in it for me” feeling. But as clichéd as it sounds, I honestly get so much more than I give.
Because on Tuesday afternoons, Lavanya is my community.
She doesn’t know it, but spending time with her broadens my perspective in ways my regular “social circle” couldn’t. She doesn’t complain that she has to share a two-bedroom house with a bunch of kids (and the world’s largest mosquitoes). She doesn’t whine about her homework and exam prep. (In fact, on our first day of tutoring, when I ask her if she wants a break, she goes: “No akka. Keep going.”). She finds joy in the little things: the four M&Ms she “won” for focussing, the jokes in the newspaper, her joy in sharing them with me, her favourite cream buns she gets as a treat on occasion. I may be helping strengthen Lavanya’s community – but she is unknowingly opening my world too.
Community is not always about finding your kind of peeps. It’s also about including those unlike you. It’s building someone else’s world. And letting them build yours.
I don’t know if God is urging you to step out. But if He is, He will also provide the resources to go with the calling. He’ll enable you to overcome fears and failures. He’ll give you the strength to take on that one more commitment. He doesn’t need our diplomas and doctorates. He just needs us to be at His disposal. In God’s economy, availability trumps ability every single time.
And who knows what blessings lie ahead? I, for one, will never look at another Samsung phone again without a smile on my face and a cool joke in my arsenal.
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