Who do you think you are? God’s gift to the world?

The volunteer’s perspective, a speech given at Samaritan Ministry’s Next Step Breakfast on April 6, 2024 by Isaiah J. L. Poole.

“Who do you think you are? God’s gift to the world?”

I’ve had that question hurled at me—and perhaps you have, too, as a put-down, to tell you that you are not as valuable and important as you think you are.

But today I want to challenge you to take that question not as an insult but as an inspiration, not as criticism but as a challenge, not as ostracism but as opportunity.

Because, as it turns out, each of us is God’s gift to the world. We exist to bring joy to each other, to make each other’s lives better. 

The mission that each of us has is to live into that reality.

That is one of the lessons that has been reinforced in me by my work with Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington.

During my career as a journalist and a nonprofit communications executive, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a coach for up-and-coming writers, some of whom have gone on to award-winning careers in journalism and other fields. 

But I often wondered if that success meant that I had what it takes to be a teacher. Usually, my wondering would end when I envisioned myself in front of a classroom full of restless children. Teachers who succeed in those environments are true angels. But that would not be me. 

Nonetheless, when Samaritan Ministry announced that it was looking for adult tutors to serve in its Congress Heights office, I took a leap of faith. 

That leap of faith was life-changing. 

The people in our classes are adults ranging from their 20s to over 60. For various reasons, they come to us without the basic reading and math skills that people like me have grown to take for granted.

Our education programs at Samaritan Ministry are a great example of what our entire organization is about: empowering people. But what I discovered is that as I empower others, I am empowering myself. 

I have written over the years about the structural inequities in our society, but the adults I tutor have taught me so much more through the resilience that they have needed to survive and the character they have developed as they recover from the bad turns their lives took. 

And it has been good for me to be around people whose life experience has given them real sharp bull manure detectors. They have made me dig deep into my authentic self, flaws and all. 

That can be humbling —especially when we’re working through a math or language problem and I have to actually explain why that’s the right answer—but knowing that you have value, knowing that you can help change another person’s life, that you can in fact be God’s gift to them has been priceless for me.

The art of living is a lot like the art of writing. You sometimes get stuck because you don’t have all the information you need. You sometimes get “writer’s block” and you literally can’t figure out what the next paragraph is supposed to be. Your story veers off course and you have to rework what you’ve done.

When I hit those moments in my career, what has saved me is having a good editor. The people who serve at Samaritan Ministry are like editors, there to help people write their life stories, not through a one-way, top-down process but through a mutual journey that transforms everyone involved. 

One of the most important aspects of the work of Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington is that it forges connections. And forging connections is, I would argue, the most important work we do in life. 

It’s like that passage in the New Testament from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he says that we are to be as connected and interdependent as the parts of our body.

As Paul points out, a foot can’t say that it’s not a part of the body because it is not a hand—and vice versa. But each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, astonishingly complex and versatile, and though there are many parts, as Paul says,  there is one body.

Likewise, each of us has a gift, each of us has a purpose. And each of us is needed. Because we were made for connection, and we were made for interdependence. We were made to be God’s gift to each other—and to the world.I hope you are inspired today to make connectedness the headline of your story, and to make Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington one of the places where you will choose to live out your calling as God’s gift to the world.