By Barrett Keene
Last May my best friend, Jake Barreth, and I bought round-trip tickets to Honduras.
We packed our bags and flew south. The beaches and coral reefs were stunning, but what stood out more than anything was the multitude of children living in abject poverty. Jake’s heart was shattered by the conditions and lack of hope that characterized the lives of these children, no fault of their own. He was reminded of something he once read, “Religion that is pure is caring for orphans and widows... and not being polluted by the world.” While he had no idea how to even begin helping orphans, Jake decided to serve.
Soon after, Jake traveled to Haiti to serve orphans through the Global Orphan (GO) Project. He was astounded by the organization and asked how he could help. The leaders at the GO Project asked Jake if he would move to Haiti — the poorest, most disease-ridden, politically unstable country in the Western Hemisphere. Jake considered the implications and volunteered to go without knowing much of anything.
One month later, Jake’s willingness to serve was honored as he was asked to lead all of the GO Project’s operations in Haiti and given a salary that allowed him to more than meet his needs. Jake’s life is being radically blessed as he is serving almost 3,000 children in 19 orphanages throughout Haiti.
In a world filled with pain, poverty and strife, there are virtually limitless opportunities to serve. However, we often do not have to look any farther than the person closest to us to find opportunities to help. Consider the member in your chapter who struggles with insecurities and loneliness. How can you serve him or her? Is it showing genuine interest in this person by getting to know him or her? Is it asking your chapter officers what they can do to serve and encourage him or her?
The late Robert Greenleaf, an incredible champion for servant leadership, believed a great leader is seen as a servant first and that fact is the source of their greatness. When a chapter officer or FFA member is a servant first, they continually choose to meet the needs of teammates and members simply because that need exists, not because it is the right or the expected thing to do.
One simple, yet challenging way to help members develop as servant leaders is to teach them to really listen. This is challenging because it involves checking our assumption that what we have to say is more interesting, informed, and/or important. Listening is more than waiting until the other person finishes so you can pounce. True listening involves valuing the person you are with as much as you value their words and proving this by being completely present.
What is incredible about Jake’s opportunity to serve is that he gets to treat 3,000 orphaned or abandoned children as if they are unconquerable, gallant knights. Jake knows all they wish for is to simply be loved, to be taken care of and to have a fighting chance in this world. As a servant leader, Jake has assumed the inglorious, yet beautiful role of the pilgrim shadow as he encourages the children and the other adults who teach, bathe, feed and clothe the orphans through their own valleys of the shadow.
Which members in your chapter and which members of your officer team would benefit from influential words and actions today? Have your chapter officers take a moment and write down a detailed plan on how they will begin serving at least two chapter members and two members of their team? Serve boldly!