Extra Mile Love
Students in my class on love made a positive difference this semester. The course explores love in theology, science, and society. Students went the extra mile to help others.
As part of the curriculum I asked students to “go above and beyond” their normal lives to do good to others. I called this the “Extra Mile Love Project,” in light of Jesus’ teaching to go a mile more than what is asked of us. More than 40 students chose a love project that required them to move outside their comfort zones to be helpful.
Loving a Beggar
Joshua Mundy accepted the Extra Mile Love Project challenge and did his good deed on Valentine’s Day, 2011. Joshua met a homeless man panhandling near Wal-Mart that day.
The man was thin, had a long scruffy beard, and was wearing heavy camouflage clothing with thick black boots. He held a sign: “Homeless, Hungry and No Clean Water.”
Joshua felt like God was asking him to talk with this man. “Hey, are you all right?” he asked.
“I am just trying to get dinner,” was the response.
“Is it all right if I buy you groceries?” Joshua asked. The man, Richard, accepted.
As they walked the store aisles, Richard explained the series of misfortunate events that led to his homelessness. Richard was riding his bike home from a grocery store when a truck “doored” him, knocking him off his bike and injuring him. Luckily, a pedestrian called an ambulance. Richard suffered from six broken ribs, a minor concussion, and a severely bruised arm.
All of Richard’s money went to paying his medical bills. When the money dried up, he began living on the edge of someone’s property.
Richard only selected a few items from Wal-Mart’s shelves that day. Joshua paid $16.66 for them. But Joshua learned his relatively minor sacrifice could make a big difference.
Helping the Blind
For her Extra Mile Love Project, Macey Mendez-Vigo walked once a week with Sandy, a blind member of the community. Sandy’s blindness made her fearful of doing outside activities. But walking with Macey allowed Sandy to explore the world beyond her home.
Sandy often said, “You have no idea how much this means to me!” She seemed rejuvenated having Macey as a walking companion and finding new avenues for exercise.
Macey says that this love project stretched her. Macey is herself an introvert who feels nervous meeting new people. She has a busy schedule as a college student. But this experience added to the passion Macey has for her chosen field of study, psychology.
Macey says this project led her to feel greater compassion for those in need. She believes that with graduate work in clinical psychology, she will be able to influence many more lives. Macey learned through this Extra Mile Project that she could make a positive impact on another life.
Ministering to the Dying
Student, Lindsay LaShelle, volunteered with a hospice organization to show Extra Mile love. She said she wanted “the opportunity to love on someone, to be a comfort or a listening ear as the end of life approached.”
Lindsay found that although she had come to sit with someone who was dying, the people caring for the patient seemed to benefit most from her visits. They were grateful and relieved just by her presence.
As expected, the person Lindsay saw passed away after a few months of her beginning to visit. Lindsay says she learned a lot through the experience. While she usually likes to help people by doing things for them, this Extra Mile Love Project taught her that love sometimes calls us to sit, listen, and be present to others.
Encouraging the Disenfranchised
A student who wishes to remain nameless decided to be someone’s “secret friend” for the university semester. This student wrote encouraging notes and sent anonymous gifts to a girl who wasn’t quite as social as other girls were.
This secret friend suffered from fibromyalgia, which is a disease that causes constant pain. “She is a sweet girl,” says the student. “She is just extremely shy. She has had a very hard life up to this point and has a very hard time trusting people.”
The student used Facebook to encourage her secret friend. “It was always so exciting to get on Facebook and see what her friend had to say about her note or gift for the day,” said the student. “It was nice to get a response from her too.” The girl never discovered the student’s identity.
“All I did for my Extra Mile Love Project was write little notes and send inexpensive gifts every day,” said the student. “But I could tell it gave her hope and brought her happiness.”
Caring for Children and Busy Parents
Amanda Snyder chose to babysit weekly for some leaders at her church. Each week, Amanda watched movies and played games with the kids. She expected the gift of babysitting to be easy. But it took more time than she expected, and giving up free time to help others is not easy for a busy college student.
The rewards for this work were many, says Amanda. The leaders were able to help others in the church and not worry about watching their own kids. Amanda developed friendships with people she had not known well previously. And she found she enjoyed babysitting. She plans to continue helping with kids as she prepares for a career after college.
Helping the Poor
Another student who wishes to remain nameless planned an Extra Mile Love Project for his friend, George. George comes from a family whose total income is below to poverty line. Although a university student, he cannot afford money for laundry. George often wears clothes many days in a row. He is embarrassed that his clothes become filthy and odorous.
For his project, this student decided to send ten dollars in quarters and laundry detergent anonymously for six weeks. This required some sacrifice, because the student didn’t have much money himself.
In the weeks that followed, George’s confidence grew. He stopped having body odor and his clothes were consistently cleaned and washed. George allowed himself to get closer in physical proximity to other people. Something as simple as laundry was holding George back so much in his confidence and personal life. The student plans to continue this gift of cleanliness.
Aaron Blackwill decided to accept the Extra Mile Love Project challenge by paying for someone’s groceries. While at Wal-Mart, Aaron asked an elderly man if he could pay for the small basket of food the man was carrying to the cash register. The man laughed and said, “That’s really strange!” But he accepted the offer.
This stranger seemed happier and touched by Aaron’s kindness. “This little experience has changed me for the better,” Aaron says. “I realize now that we can do small things everyday to show love and kindness to someone.”
Aaron plans to continue doing this kind of thing in the future. “The action of brightening someone’s day could, in turn, create positive effects for other encounters,” says Aaron, “spreading a happier day for many people.”
Going the Extra Mile Promotes Well-Being
I encourage students to express love in the little and mundane activities of life. But going the Extra Mile by planning a gift of love that stretches the giver can bring great rewards.