Special Guest Post by Mike Matthews (Seminary Instructor, New York City)
Throughout the year, our class seminary decided to set aside certain days to serve back the city we love.
We had just one issue: it’s 6:30 in the morning.
New Yorkers are famously busy, but commuting New Yorkers at that hour would probably be more focused on their destination and less on twenty sugar-infused teenagers—even adorable ones trying to do some good.
But, even though it might take a hot second, NYC always shows up for us.
So, whether we’re cheering on the hard-core runners in Central Park, asking people on the street about their moms, or just handing the class a bag of materials to create their own service ideas, NYC is game.
But, the #LIGHTtheWORLD initiative opened our eyes to an even bigger concept than serving NYC: serve WITH NYC.
This invaluable lesson was solidified when we wrote what we were grateful for on custom #LIGHTtheWORLD post-it notes, put the notes up on a subway platform wall, then let NY join the fun.
Understandably, not too many people rushing to work stopped by our little table while a mass of high school students stared at them. I could tell they were a little disappointed, so I just kept telling them, “Just wait, my friends.” As the class rushed off to their respective high schools I stayed behind and just watched people trickle in. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Subway workers, Wall Street mavens, ER doctors, moms, kids, musicians, Broadway performers—they all grabbed a pen and added
to the beautiful collage of what they were grateful for today. Some made you laugh (ex: “it’s Friday”), some made you cry (ex: “My son being heroin free for five months”) and some made you think (ex: “Chances”).
We left the materials behind and basically said, “OK NYC, take the wheel!”
Three hours later I received a call from one of the seminary students (suspiciously not in class): “Mike, you should see it! It’s out of control!” adding, “We’re out of post-it notes and some of the post-its are being blown off by the passing subway train wind, what should I do?”
“Get to a Duane Reade and get some tape and general post-it notes ASAP!” I replied.
By 2:00PM, hundreds of red #LIGHTtheWORLD post-its were surrounded by thousands of yellow post-its. And on and on—for the next 2 days.
I wasn’t able to see the final project in-person as I happened to be flying across the country that first day. So, while mid-air I’d receive picture and video updates on the progress from seminary students. However, my greatest memory was clicking through the hashtag “LIGHTtheWORLD” via Instagram and viewing posts from not our stake or students, but NYers. They used the hashtag. They were just a part of this as we were.
It came as no surprise when we asked the class later for their thoughts on the experience they responded universally with, “We love that NY got involved.”
We (re)realized we don’t have a monopoly on faith, family and goodness. We need to serve, inspire, and teach each other. It goes two ways. “Serving” is good; “serving with” is even better.