Ambitious Hustler or Faithful Servant?

Dr. Emily SmithBy Dr. Emily Smith5 Minutes

Excerpt taken from The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger about Loving Our Neighbors by Dr. Emily Smith


At barely 20 years old, I got on a plane for Honduras to spend a month on the Mercy Ships, a medical missions ship providing care to people in some of the poorest countries around the globe. I couldn’t speak the language there and had never traveled that far without a family member with me. I had signed up as a month-long volunteer, and off I flew carrying a suitcase loaded with my journal, a Bible, and books along with some clothes. I also carried a heart bursting with idealism but woefully unprepared for what I would see…

A few days into the trip, I felt like I’d made a massive mistake. Homesick and lonely and culture-shocked, I called my mom, and with tears told her I was ready to come home. But something changed over the next few hours. I knew I needed to stay. And I’m so glad I did.

I spent the next weeks working in the ship’s kitchen. I made hundreds of peanut butter sandwiches for the medical teams to take with them when they traveled to rural areas for health clinics. And the trips I made with them changed me. My goodness, the way poverty stretched its fingers into every aspect of the communities’ lives was stark.

For the first time, I was seeing what I’d heard or read about. I’d grown up reading books about the work of Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot, Hudson Taylor, and Lottie Moon, but I hadn’t truly seen what they had written about. Until now. And it wrecked me.

When I returned to the ship after one of those trips, I was supposed to start my shift in the kitchen. But I was having a hard time, and one of the other workers noticed. She was at least 40 years older than me and had lived on the Mercy Ships for over a year. She noticed my tears, and without hesitating, she said she’d take my shift, and I could go to her room to rest and regroup.

Her room was the tiniest one I’ve ever seen, tucked away in the middle of the ship with just enough space for a bed and a desk smaller than you could find at Ikea. I took a nap and enjoyed the quiet. Here’s what I remember most, though: She didn’t shame me for my tears or tell me to suck it up. She just let me be sad and confused in the moment.

After that, I watched this woman when she was serving food or eating meals in the giant dining room and noticed she seemed so happy and peaceful simply being herself. I was an ambitious 20-year-old, full of dreams of the future—big dreams—believing I could shoot for the stars and go for the gold and be anything and everything if I set my mind to it. All of this translated in my mind to being the best and a leader. Not because I had anything to prove or because I wanted to be the best. I just wanted to be faithful, and I thought that meant being at the top, making the best efforts toward the highest ambitions.

But what if faithfulness looked quieter? Perhaps it is day-in, day-out obedience in small ways too. Maybe it is spending more than a year of your life sleeping in a tiny room in the middle of a ship and making sandwiches for people and noticing the 20-year-olds who were struggling with their faith and telling them to go rest. I challenge you, like I learned that day, to be in faithful walking, not ambitious hustling.

Excerpt taken from The Science of the Good Samaritan by Emily Smith. © 2023 by Zondervan. Used by permission.

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