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Spreadsheets, Espresso Shots & the Servant Heart

I am currently working as the Administrative Manager for Exile International. I’ve been part of the Exile team for about 16 months now, but I’ve been deeply passionate about the work we do since I first heard about the organization over 2 years ago. I started as an intern last summer, after months of bombarding Bethany with emails begging her to let me work for her. After an incredible summer in Nashville, I continued working part-time from Massachusetts until I was able to graduate from college and move to Nashville. I’ve been in my current full-time position for a little over three months now.

While I have previously been blessed with the incredible opportunity to travel with Exile to Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to help with trauma workshops for war-affected children, my current job is…well, a lot of things. Anything and everything really. But put simply, you could say I hold down the fort here in Nashville, TN. I take care of the behind the scenes office management and administrative tasks. That includes bookkeeping, communicating with volunteers, managing interns, organizing travel logistics, paying our bills, writing thank you notes to donors, and so on.

I spend 80% of my time behind a computer updating spreadsheets and communicating with people over email. Another 10% running errands at the bank, post office, office supply stores, etc. And the last 10% in meetings with our staff or folks interested in getting more involved with our work. But if I am to be totally honest, the majority of my time is spent in local coffee shops downing espresso, staring at spreadsheets, and typing emails at warp speed.

I’ve been to Africa four times now. Each trip has been more life-changing than the previous, despite the fact that I’ve never been on the ground for more than two weeks at a time. My heart is for empowering the people of Africa. More specifically, women and children who have survived war.

It has been ever since I returned from my first trip to DR Congo in the summer of 2009. That’s where I feel called to serve. That’s what makes me feel alive. That’s the cause that pulls at my heartstrings the strongest. Why? I’ll never really know, but it does.

Maybe it is because they, those I’ve had the privilege to share life with, are survivors. They are spirit warriors. They have an unimaginable strength and resilience. They understand and love the heart of God unlike anyone I’ve ever met. And they know a level of forgiveness that would transform the world if adopted. Their hearts deserve deep healing and renewed hope. They will change the world with their stories and their strength. In my eyes, there is no better investment than empowering a generation of women and children who have survived war.

I believe with all my heart in the mission of Exile International. And I feel beyond blessed to be a part of this beautiful team and journey. It is nothing less than an honor to share these children’s stories and advocate for their futures. They will change the course of history and lead their countries in peace. I have no doubt. And I feel so honored to simply walk beside them as they do.

But I must be completely honest and confess that I realized recently after listening to a sermon on the servant heart, that lately I haven’t been working this new job out of a servant’s heart.

In fact, my heart has been quite self-serving. Lately I have felt burdened by all the administrative tasks. Stuck behind my computer and so far removed from the work on the ground. And in total transparency, even slightly bitter about being here in a coffeehouse instead of there in an orphanage, school, or displacement camp. My heart has been hungry to “serve.” To hold those kids’ hands while they share their stories, look them in the eye, and tell them I believe in them. Yet, I’ve felt a bit stuck here behind the scenes when I want to be there on the ground in the middle of it all.

Until recently, when it was very slowly spelled out for me, I didn’t realize how selfish that was.

Sure, what I do is not as glamorous. It’s not the way we think of “serving” or being “used” by God. Because its not hands-on “ministry” (whatever that means). It’s not being “sent out” into the world. It’s not as flashy or appealing. It’s not as messy or dangerous or hardcore.

But what I do is an integral part of this ministry. It is critical in the sustainability of our work. And I’m good at it. I say this with humility, because it really isn’t what I want to be good at. Anyone who knows me can tell you this is not my dream job. I’m a people person and crave direct connection. But, I am also organized and driven. I’m a planner and a hard worker. I am incredibly detail-oriented and have administrative skills that are needed on this end of the work we do. Recently, though, I’ve been wishing I didn’t. Because I don’t want to be needed here. I want to be needed there.

That’s not a servant heart. The leaders on our team are incredible at what they do. They are far more trained than I and better equipped to walk these children through the healing process they so desperately need. Could I also be someday? Sure, with more experience and training, most definitely. But right now, I should be using the skills I do have to help where I can. To allow the leaders to focus on trauma care. Because when I do my job well, they can be free to do their job well, and empower children of war to become leaders for peace.

None of my heart’s desires to be on the ground were intentionally self-serving. I wanted to serve.

But the servant heart wants to serve on God’s terms, not their own. Where He places them, not where they wish to be placed. To empower leaders to continue being leaders. By following with humility for God’s glory only.

I am making a much greater impact behind a computer in Nashville, TN than I could currently in an orphanage in DRC or Uganda. Still a positive impact in the lives of these children, just indirectly rather than directly. Behind the scenes instead of front row center. The best way to serve is with the skills you already have in the place God has already put you.

For many of us, this is incredibly hard. Not because we are selfish and want the glory, fame or credit. But because when your heart breaks for a cause and beats for a ministry, everything inside of you wants to dive in and serve in the greatest possible way. I constantly see this in the bright-eyed supporters of Exile I get the privilege of meeting with. Their hearts beat like mine for this cause and they want to entirely immerse themselves in this work. Even if its not the right place or time or match of their natural skills. We quickly misinterpret how we can make the greatest impact. We assume it is right there in the middle. Not hidden in the background.

But if we adopt a true servant heart and allow God to use us how and where He wants to,
we have a much greater chance of changing the world.

Not everyone is meant to lead. And those who are only become good leaders after they have mastered the art of following.

Perhaps in the future my role will be more hands-on working with the children we serve. And maybe it won’t. But all I know right now is that I have the opportunity to make a huge difference in these kids’ lives from right where I am. I can use my natural administrative skills (regardless of whether or not they’re the skills I desire) to help Exile become more efficient and organized. I can make sure admin tasks are taken care of and done well so that my leaders can focus all of their valuable time and energy on our programs on the ground.

That is just as important as leading a trauma workshop for war-affected children. Because it enables us to do the work on the ground. To do it well and to do it sustainably. To continue bringing hope and empowerment to more children affected by war in Central and Eastern Africa.

I long to be back in Africa. Every second of every single day. And not for two weeks like my past trips, but long-term. My heart yearns to invest in and become a part of a community there. Impacting lives directly. While looking into their eyes and watching their hearts come back to life as they find a new sense of hope.

But for right now, by being here, I can make a bigger difference there.

If your heart beats for the work that we do, or even if your heart beats for the work of another ministry out there… I encourage you to search your heart and spend some serious time in reflection. I challenge you (and me) not to assume that you need to fly to Africa, or wherever else you feel called to serve, in order to make a difference. Perhaps that is His plan for you, but I challenge you to think bigger. And to intentionally ask God how and where He wants to use you. Ask Him to point you toward your natural skill sets and show you how those can be tapped into for that specific cause. Ask Him how you can be used right where you are for whatever pulls your heartstrings the strongest. Chances are there is a beautiful opportunity to combine your passion for that cause and your already developed skills to make a huge impact.

It may be behind the scenes. It may be distant from where you really want to be. And it may seem safe. But I challenge you to take that risk. And step out in faith that He’s already trying to use you right where you are for that very cause for which He placed a fire in your heart.

If we lay down our own desires and serve on His terms,
we just might develop a true servant heart
and change the world.

– Jessie

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