Why do you do what you do?


This past week Tim and I both finally succumbed to all the disease floating around Western Kenya and got as sick as we’ve ever been – he with malaria, myself with a tick-borne rickettsial infection. I would highly suggest that you avoid both! Laying in bed completely miserable, far from the comforts of “home,” we kept thinking to ourselves – why are we here? Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why did we leave lucrative job opportunities and a comfortable life surrounded by friends and family to come to Western Kenya?

This is a constant question in development work, and the answers are as diverse as the people who work in this field. Sometimes it’s a love of adventure that drives people to seek out lifestyles and challenges different from their own, and sometimes it’s an academic interest in the way that the “other” lives and works. Sometimes it’s a compassionate bleeding heart, and sometimes it’s a longing for a simpler quieter life off the grid. I’ve heard all these reasons and more, and in each one of those reasons I see a piece of myself – I do love adventure and sought to cut down on the influence of material possessions in my life, and I deeply care about and am interested in the ways that although we are all different we are all the same and worthy of compassion. But none of those things are quite at center, none of those things are exactly what’s really driving us.

Tim and I recently listened to a sermon as part of the Soulology series at MPPC called “Meaning,” in which Kevin Kim tackles the small problem of the meaning of life (Check it out here or on itunes). He discourses on some of the different philosophies that guide us as we make decisions about how to live our lives and how to find meaning in the confusion that they often bring, and the conclusion that he and we came to after a lengthy discussion was that the prospect of ongoing life after death and God’s ultimate promise to renew the earth gives a weight and purpose to everything we do that simply doesn’t exist if life ends with our death. Sure this is a controversial point, but after playing devil’s advocate for a while Tim and I remained pretty convinced that while it is a worthy goal to improve any individual’s life in the present, the hope that God will participate in that work with us into eternity gives all our efforts an extra meaning regardless of our failure or success in the moment.

You may be thinking to yourself, “That’s wonderful, Marlene, but how in the world does what you’re doing fit into that philosophy? You are trying to prevent people from getting sick and kids from dying NOW, in this life! What kind of eternal significance does that have? How many souls are you “winning for heaven” by examining contaminated water in Kenya under the umbrella of a secular organization?”

My answer is that eternity starts now. We live our lives doing the work of bringing God’s kingdom here now – not because we think that we alone can change the world, but because we believe that participating in the good that God is doing now and will make perfect into eternity is a worthy goal that brings us closer to God and to his people all over the world. We participate in the work of lifting up the poor and the sick in the present with the knowledge and encouragement that the work does not end with us or depend on us, and the trust that God is fulfilling his promises now and into the future.

So despite the occasional moments of discouragement when we are oh so sick in bed, we know why we do what we do! We are having incredible adventures, meeting new people and enjoying new places, developing our compassion for those different from us and those with less than us, and relying less on our material possessions. But ultimately we are here because God has asked us to be, and all of those other motivations take on a whole new color when viewed as part of the ongoing journey towards a restored world.