Reaching the World—From Your Desk

How to make a difference, wherever you are clocked in.

Everyone knows the best place to foster relationships with the poor is on the church’s annual week-long mission trip or within the specified hours we’re doing “volunteer” work in the community. Or, reluctantly, when we can’t quite zip through a red light in time to avoid the sign-holding stranger who wants a bite to eat. Where we don’t always encounter the poor is at work.

Except that we do.

Though our temptation is to designate relating to people who are poor as being something special we do outside of our job, Jesus had a whole other plan.

Who’s to say the Samaritan who aided a bloody mugging victim wasn’t on his way to Starbucks to discuss a possible business merger? And how do we know the one Jesus praises for visiting prisoners wasn’t a manager at the Burger King where the prisoner was employed? There’s simply no good reason to assume we shouldn’t be engaging with the poor—materially and otherwise—where we work. It may take a little creativity, but it’s worth the effort.

Working as a barista, bartender or waiter?

Know the names of the customers you serve. Though you won’t be able to know each one, identify a few regulars and be open to new ways to know and care for them. It might be as simple as remembering what they’ve shared with you and following up the next time you see them. 

Does your coffee shop or restaurant get rid of food at the end of the day? See if you can donate leftovers to a local shelter or a homeless person you pass on your commute.

Working in health care?

If you work in health care, your work is holy. You, quite literally, are God’s hands and feet in the lives of the ones God loves. As you care for the poor, be open to discover how Jesus wants to use you in their lives—and vice versa. Expect these routine encounters to be the place where Jesus is at work.

Working as a creative (artist, performer, writer, speaker)?

Author Henri Nouwen spent a season of his life among people withdisabilities as a member of a L’Arche community. When he traveled tolecture, he’d bring one of these friends along. As you developfriendships with those who are poor, find creative ways for them toshare your platform. Rather than telling a story about them, find aunique way for them to tell their own story. You can also donate yourtime to providing creative assets for organizations or groups that could benefit from this expression.

Working in IT?

You’ve got mad computer skills, so don’t be afraid to use them.Consider contacting a congregation or nonprofit with whom you have someconnection—your housekeeper’s church? local teen outreach?—and offeringto share your skills. If they don't have a site online, they need yourhelp! Offer to mentor a teen or adult who can continue to update thesite.

Working in social services?

If you work in social services, you’ve hit the jackpot. No doubt a world in need files past your door, rides in your car and calls your phone every day. Counselor Michelle K. tells clients: “You are God’s beloved. You are made in the image of God and God wants good things for you.” The announcement has brought clients to tears. Find creative ways to communicate this truth.

Working a desk job?

Though a desk, an office door or a cubicle might naturally separateyou from groups who are demographically different than you, keep youreyes peeled. Who vacuums the office you use? Who cleans the bathrooms?Who fills the vending machines? Seize opportunities to know theseforgotten coworkers, as well as ways your business could benefit thosebeyond your office doors. 

Working as a student?

There are a lot of people who work to make your experience possible,and many you might overlook are worth knowing. Who’s cooking in thecafeteria? Who’s cleaning the classrooms? Use the flexibility yourschedule allows to know and learn the stories of these important andoften unrecognized people.

Working as a pastor?

Though many of our churches are fairly ethnically and socioeconomically homogenous, partner with a sister congregation across demographic lines of income, race or—truly revolutionary—even denomination. Invite their men to join your congregation’s men’s group, or ask if your women can participate in their annual women’s retreat. The goal? Authentic friendship and, eventually, shared mission.

Working as a youth pastor?

Too often, parents and the church keep young people from encountering a world in need in the name of “protecting” them. Challenge young people to identify and discover one new friend at school whose economic circumstances are less privileged than their own. Better yet, make them curious by modeling it with a friend of your own.

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Working at home?

Whether you build websites or build earrings to sell on Etsy, you’ve got a tricky challenge. Basically, you’re going to have to leave your home or invite the outside world in. Is there an elderly person in your neighborhood who’s home during the day? Could you make yourself available to pick up the kid of the single mother from daycare when she’s in a bind? Ask God to show you these opportunities. (Looking for other ways to make an impact in your neighborhood? Here are some tips for making a difference in the suburbs.)

Working in education?

From curriculum to field work, let your students encounter a worldthat’s bigger than the one they inhabit by exposing them to news,stories, history and encounters with those who are materially poor.Think on ways to challenge your students to know and engage with thosewho are under-resourced.

Was your unique job not even mentioned? Leave us a comment and tell us how you engage with those who are materially poor in the course of your daily work.

Margot Starbuck is the author of the recently released Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor (InterVarsity Press). More at



Nan commented…

WHere I interact with the most people is at work. Well, there's the corner people, too. We must meet the impoverished all the time, but I need continuity and time to develop relationships with people, so that would mostly be work.


Reb commented…

Good article.


Jennifer commented…

Volunteer at a school! You can read to kids, hall monitor, help with bulletin boards, help w/ all the technology that's bursting into schools, help a teacher grade papers, help kids with their math, mentor a kid with special needs, or even just run the copier for a teacher once a week. You don't have to be a parent or an education major to volunteer at a school.

I'm a volunteer and know for a fact that elementary school kids love seeing adults in the hallway. They wave to me, smiles, and the ones who tend to get in trouble in school even straighten up a little.

I live in a military community so a lot kids in our school have one parent deployed at any given time. That extra help from adult volunteers throughout the week means so much to them, and all the kids.



Rob commented…

I appreciate the challenge and reminder to use the opportunities that God gives us in our places of business. It's easy to let the structures of our workplaces determine how we relate to others. Perhaps by looking for the guide rails we'll see where we ought to climb over and duck under; we've got our work cut out for us.


Anonymous commented…

RELEVANT, thank you for always being so practical. I am a junior in college pursuing my degree in public relations hoping to work for a publication *like this one*. But sometimes, I wonder if my impact will tech those that are truly in need. Thanks or giving me some basic ways to help people.

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