It was kind of a surreal moment for me on Friday. Standing in our cafeteria, which had been turned into a massive meal packing operation by a group called Rise Against Hunger, I was struck by the joy on our students faces as they laboriously scooped soy, vitamins, and rice into packages to be weighed and sealed by students at other stations. These meal packs were then sorted and packed into boxes for shipping by yet another group of students. As music blared in the background, students sang and danced while working. To be honest, I kept waiting for the system to collapse. This operation was massive, involving literally every student in every grade at Cornerstone. Who would give up first? The Kindergarten? Third grade? Would our High schoolers? Would our parents and volunteers witness a mutiny? Asking students to spend hours on their feet, in hair nets and gloves, sweating...would surely be too much.
Every time we packed another 1,000 bags, a gong would sound and the students would cheer. As supplies dwindled and arms fatigued, not a single table gave up until the final gong rang for the 10,000th meal. I looked around, and some students were still packing up the last of the supplies...while others were beginning the process of cleaning and restoring our cafeteria to its normal use.
A few hours earlier, I had given a brief message to the student body during chapel on the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. My human weakness had led me to believe that I would need to implore our students that each person they were serving through the meals they were about to pack for the "least of these" would, in fact, be meals prepared as if they were to be given "unto God." My hope was that this would keep them working, even if reluctantly.
As I watched the packing operation, I realized God has been at work in our student body and that He had given them the heart and talent to serve -- and to serve joyfully! When I helped found Cornerstone twenty years ago, I probably had dreams of a day like Friday, but would never have imagined it would be as powerful as it was in real life.
As I retreated to my office, legs and arms sore, face still dripping with sweat, two students came into my office and asked if we could do more service projects like Rise Against Hunger or start a club to identify more ways to serve those in need. "Mr. Max," they noted, "we should be doing this all the time!"
I often question our decision to not require service hours for graduation like many other schools do in DC and around the country. I even get asked by parents why we don't. I always reply that I loathe the idea of "mandatory volunteer service" -- that my prayer is that we build into our students a desire to serve and to make giving of their time and talents a lifetime habit. On Friday, God showed me that He is at work in our students and a habit of service is being built. God, thank you for your work in and through our students!