By Alberto Valenzuela
Soon after Christ ascended from Earth to heaven, leaving behind a small but growing flock of believers, formerly impetuous disciple Peter traveled about the region, encouraging and promoting the fledgling Christian church.
One day, while he was visiting the town of Lydda, some visitors from nearby Joppa showed up with an urgent request. One of their church members had died, and the congregation needed comforting. “Please come at once!” they urged. The story is found in the ninth chapter of Acts.
Peter followed his visitors to the coastal town and hurried to a home filled with much sorrow and crying. He was led to an upstairs room where a woman named Tabitha (in Greek her name was Dorcas) lay, her body washed and prepared for burial.
It seems Dorcas wasn’t your ordinary Joppa citizen and church member. The mourners showed Peter the robes and other clothing that she had made specifically for people in need. He was told repeatedly that this woman “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36, NIV).
What the mourners expected Peter to do was provide much-needed grief counseling. What he did was something very different.
After sending everyone out of the room, he got down on his knees and prayed. Then he turned toward the dead woman and said, “Tabitha, get up” (verse 40). She did.
I think it’s safe to say that the tears of sorrow turned into tears of joy that day in Joppa.
To continue serving others and reaching outside of the four walls of our churches and institutions, it was eventually decided to come up with a name that would be more descriptive of its work: Adventist Community Services (ACS).
A history of service
In 1879, the young and growing Seventh-day Adventist church was looking for a name for its newly created community outreach program. The name had to project the concept of service to others. It had to suggest a deep passion for the poor and needy. They settled on “The Dorcas Society” in honor of the woman who was always doing good. Some who are reading this may remember donating clothing to Dorcas and, perhaps, helping out in years gone by.
To continue serving others and reaching outside of the four walls of our churches and institutions, it was eventually decided to come up with a name that would be more descriptive of its work: Adventist Community Services (ACS). ACS has been so active at the national level that some of its leaders have been recognized by FEMA and called upon to help in disaster response.
What set the original Dorcas apart from other church members of her time—and is reflected in the fact that a community outreach program was named after her—was her willingness and deep passion to serve—to make lives better, to bring hope to those in her community. She was a “love leader.” She turned love into action. With every stitch she sewed, every garment she mended, every life she touched, she applied leadership in its purest form. Her first response to a need was service.
Today, we see that quality in first responders everywhere. These men and woman don’t just stand around talking amongst themselves: “This looks bad.” “What a shame this has happened.” “Wish I knew what to do.” No! They dive right in, eager to apply what they’ve learned about saving lives. First responders serve. It’s in their training, in their passion, in their drive. Like Dorcas of old, they put God’s love into action, serving to the point of sacrifice.
Applying God’s love
Here’s the thing: The only reason we even know about Dorcas is because the Bible shares her amazing story. I’m sure there were many, many others like her, not only in the early Christian church but through the ages as Christianity spread.
And, without a doubt, there are men and woman, boys and girls, who have applied God’s love without even knowing anything about God! They’ve loved and served simply because they cared for others. Christians don’t hold the copyright on love and service. They just eagerly identify the source of their motivation.
This is also the mark of a true leader. This is the mark of someone who loves so much that he or she can’t help but serve others—especially those who are marginalized, abandoned, or in danger. True leaders serve. It’s in their job description. It’s part of who they are.
I like to imagine that I hear Peter’s words echoing in our churches and congregations today. To those whose spiritual witness is dead, I hear him say, “Friend, get up!”
What an opportunity we have to be part of a process that turns tears of sorrow into tears of joy. All it takes is a little love, a little service, and a little leadership where it’s needed most.
Alberto Valenzuela is the associate director for communication and community engagement at the Pacific Union Conference and editor of the Recorder.