Before I began my summer in Camden, NJ, a friend of mine mentioned in passing, “The secret to changing the world is that you can’t. You can only change yourself.” As I reflect back on not only this summer but the past several years, I cannot help but admit this to be true.
People often ask me, now that I have graduated, “So what do you want to do with your life?” Deep down inside I just think to myself, I want to change the world. The truth is, I’m actually saying, I want to change myself. Being in Camden for the past two months proved this harsh reality to be true.
Coaching 5th and 6th grade boys basketball was one of my greatest challenges. Nothing in the world could have prepared me to coach a group of boys that age who grew up on the streets (click here to learn more about the city of Camden and the environment these kids grew up in). There were countless instances where a kid would snap at me with a bad attitude, stomp off the court, spew a harsh comment to one of his peers, or even throw a shove or a punch at one of his teammates. In those moments I just wanted, with every fiber within me, to change that kid. If only he knew how far treating people with respect could take him. But I had to stop for a moment. I knew I had no ability to actually change that kid, where he came from, his society, or what caused him to react the way he did. Rather, I realized that the only real change I could make was how I responded to him. Would I show frustration, or the level of respect I wanted and expected him to show to others?
This lesson is challenging, yet rewarding. As I continue to prepare for Southeast Asia I must continue to remind myself, it must be God who changes people, it cannot be me. My responsibility is to then to be an imitator of God, and to love others as He has loved me. Paul reminds us of this in the book of Ephesians: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”