This article by my son John in America Magazine explains exactly what I had to learn many years ago on my first service trip with John and accompanying students while we were working with Haitians and Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. I share the article and my own personal reflection.
On one of our last days in the mountains, I left lunch early on our lunch break to return to the work site where the group had been working on a project with the residents in a small mountain village. I wanted to get more work accomplished on the project we were doing (building a sanitation system), maybe completing the project or getting closer to completion before we left.
John searched for me and found me in a pit with shovel and pick in hand. He asked me what I was doing. I told him, “trying to finish the project.” He then said to me: “Dad, you don’t get it, do you? Why do you think we are here?” To which I, as unknowingly uneducated as I was, replied: “to build a sanitation system for the community”. He then told me I was wrong and why.
He gave me the real reasons why I and others should be there. It was not the reason I had given, far from it. As I later reflected on this conversation, I began to understand the truth in what he had told me. He had opened my eyes to what service ought to be and mean and its true ends, just as John explains in his article.
I have since seen service in a completely different light – it’s more about relationships and not so much about visible achievements. Yes, visible accomplishments are sought and are and can be certainly good. But there are different and better ends to service which can be more productive than those we so often want to have or which we see as the goals. It was a great lesson for me which I will always remember.
It also showed me that our younger generation can often have great insights about life and its true meaning. They can be wonderful mentors to us as parents if we but lesson and learn.
John McLaughlin served on the IVC National Board of Directors for six years. He is an attorney in the Washington DC area and is General Counsel and Board Member of Cavalier Logistics. His many service roles have included serving as a member of the President’s Council for Gonzaga High School, Chairman of Gonzaga D.C. Classic Basketball Tournament for 25 years, and a former Board Member for Red Cloud Indian School, among others. John and his wife Christine have been married for 45 years and have five children and five grandchildren.