It was just over two years ago that my sister invited me to a fundraiser for the KGSA Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities whose mission is to engage globally by providing resources and advocacy to support the needs of local communities. Knowing my interest in education and empowerment for young women, she told me that the current focus of the KGSA Foundation was a partnership with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), a free, community-run, all-girls secondary school in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
In response to her request, I launched into the sort of hemming and hawing that I usually reserve for telemarketers: “I don’t know if we can afford to give to their cause right now, I hate to take a night away from the kids, I can’t bear to leave my warm house on a Thursday evening in the middle of a Minnesota December.” Having already met the founder of the KGSA Foundation, a charismatic young man in his middle twenties who graduated from our high school alma mater, my sister challenged me to show up and not be moved by the work this group was doing.
So with an attitude of “I’ll show her,” I arrived at the event. And despite not wanting to give my sister the satisfaction of being right, I found myself moved. I was taken in by the story of Abdul, a Kiberan man who was disturbed enough by the lack of options for the young women in his community (many young women either marry at a desperately young age or end up turning to prostitution to support themselves) that he started first a soccer program, to get the girls off the streets, and then a secondary school, so these girls could raise their prospects for the future. I was taken in by the story of Ryan, the KGSA Foundation executive director, who had met Abdul in a bar while on a study abroad program in Kibera and decided to dedicate his post-college years to supporting Abdul’s work. Taken in by these stories, my heart was more open to the appeal that followed. However, I knew that our family would only be able to give a little financially… and then I heard Ryan say that they were looking for interested volunteers to serve on the first board of directors for the Foundation.
Hearing this petition for help, I realized that it was the sort of thing I had not even known I had been looking for. I was in between jobs. I had put off any sort of volunteer work for the past four years of birthing and raising my two sons. Tired of feeling so overwhelmed by the world’s problems, I wanted a tangible way to live my desire for social justice in the world. I e-mailed Ryan the next day and was on the board of directors within a few weeks, lending my writing skills to the Foundation’s grant writing efforts.
In this week’s Gospel from Matthew 5, Jesus tells their disciples that they are a light for the world and that they must allow their light to shine before others in the form of their good deeds. And just in case we modern readers are not sure what these deeds would look like, the lectionary gives us a first reading from Isaiah that makes it plain: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
That evening at the fundraiser I had so strongly resisted attending, I felt my light being called forth and I was at a point in my life where I could hear and respond to the call. We all have gifts that we can share with the world; we all encounter opportunities, big and small, to let our light shine in the world through our deeds. In your own life, when have you felt called to let your light shine? To what are you being called right now, whether you have been aware of it or not?