(This is the second of a two-part installment. Read Part One of Rodney’s story HERE.)
Freshly immersed in Café English, Rodney quickly fostered friendships with our English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Shortly after this routine was established, he was approached by Mobilization Director Karen Spencer to potentially fill the need of Roadrunner: volunteer drivers who transport our refugee and immigrant program clients to and from ESL classes and a variety of necessary appointments. Without hesitation, Rodney said yes! Shortly after being trained, he began driving World Relief’s 15-passenger van on the ESL route three days per week. According to Rodney, this was simply the next step God planned for him to take after he asked for his heart to be opened. Through his time transporting program participants, new perspectives about immigrants and refugees have been reinforced, he has made life long memories, and fostered friendships that will forever impact his life.
Rodney readily shared some of his fondest and impactful memories so far.
“One of the first groups of ladies I was driving home (from ESL classes) came close to my 29th wedding anniversary. So I asked them to teach me how to say ‘I love you’ in Swahili, which is ‘nakupenda.’ It was a way to reach out to them with things from my life and incorprate it into theirs. And they just laughed more than anything and loved it. Later on, when they started leaving (the van), we would say ‘nakupenda’ to each other as a sign of our friendship.”
This is a small glimpse into the joy Rodney brings to our friends when he picks them up from classes. As I have witnessed personally, our clients light up when they see him because of his concerted effort to learn their names and help them work on their English by basic, but meaningful conversations about their lives.
These relationships fostered along his routes have now quickly extended into his regular life and beyond the reaches of our programs. Rodney met the Mto brothers when he took them home one week. After exchanging basic formalities, he asked questions in following drives about their lives: who was married, what were their hobbies, etc. As they grew more comfortable around each other, one of the brothers approached Rodney with a question.
“Close to the end of (their class cycle), one of them said, ‘I want to learn how to drive’. And so I said, ‘okay.’ I went over (to the Connect Language Center), I talked to Richard (WRM’s Education Director), who gave me some books and helped me get them ready to pass their permit test before they could start driving. They practiced and practiced and practiced. Afterwards, I invited them out to my house for some chili. Two came, and I got to know them better. They have now gotten jobs, so they are no longer attending ESL classes. However, they have become friends with me and my son – who is 18 years old.”
Just a couple months ago, Rodney took them out to Incredible Pizza to drive go-karts so they could safely practice driving! While this might seem trivial, this meant the world to the Mto brothers and is a big step towards integration for them as new residents in Memphis.
Before we closed our conversation I had a few final questions, the first being why he was so willing to serve beyond his initial volunteer commitment. His response was truly inspiring and humbling for me.
“For me, this whole thing has been about being open to God working in my life. In the last two years I have just been praying a prayer that I would hunger and thirst after righteousness, that I would open myself up to God and to new opportunites. So, when he said something about driving, there was the human instinct (in me) that said ‘maybe this is going too far.’ But I said, ‘God, I asked you to make me open so, okay.’ I will continue this friendship as long as God wants me to. Patrick [one of the brothers] just texted me the other day – and my nickname is Big Rod, but he can’t remember Rod, so he just calls me ‘Big’ – and said, ‘Yo... Big, I’m ready to drive!’ And like always, I say ‘okay!’”
(During the COVID19 social distancing measures and our temporary office closure, Rodney continues to serve by picking up and delivering groceries for some of our more vulnerably impacted families. And he still checks regularly with the friends he has made through Cafe English and driving! Listen to brother Lusungu Mto thank “Big Rod” in our Volunteer Appreciation video HERE.)
At World Relief we often talk about the opportunity for mutual transformation. Rodney experienced a significant mindset shift and can attest to personal transformation in just under a year. Because of his willingness to take a leap of faith, he has been blessed by being a source of positivity and friendly welcome for many of our program participants. Although he is not travelling abroad, he describes his work here as being a missionary from home.
“The thing that has gotten me more than anything else, is that there are missionaries that are called by God and go to a certain country. I’m being a missionary here. I’ve met people from Columbia, Venezuela, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I’ve learned these people’s names, I’ve gotten to talk to them, find out about their familes, what they like to cook, etc. Its something that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s ever expanding.”
While of course, bringing God’s love to other parts of the world is critically important, what happens when God is bringing the world to you? Do you push them aside, unwilling to allow them in or see them? Or do you spread God’s love and Gospel, ministering to the nations on your own front doorstep?
Finally, I asked Rodney what he would say to anyone reading this who could be subscribing to his previous way of thinking, or who is on the fence about potentially volunteering for World Relief. He responded candidly.
“It is not so much that you have the ‘skills’ when you come to this job. It is that you open yourself up to God and say, ‘Take everything that I am, and use me for you glory in this position.’ So, it’s all about being open to God. I am reading a book in my men’s Bible study (at First Evan) called Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He says in it, ‘What are the things that you’re involved in in your life? Look at your life and ask yourself if the things you’re doing are making much of Jesus.’ We have an opportunity (here). He has let us know Him and then by being involved with other people, our lives can echo this: ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.’ That is what it is all about to me. Be open, and let God use you to be who he created you to be.”
Volunteering is a sacrifice. It is willingly giving up time you could have to yourself or with your family to go into the world and serve. It is about applying discipleship. Not everyone has the opportunity to serve internationally. But we all have a chance to make a difference where we live, and Rodney's story is a needed reminder of our call to love and serve. He is an example we should all strive to follow.
By Nathan Spencer
Join World Relief Memphis HERE as we respond to the local impact of the COVID19 Crisis, equipping and coordinating volunteers and churches (like Rodney and First Evan) seeking to love their neighbors by responding to urgent refugee and immigrant community needs.