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Shuffling the Cards: On Spades and Disinterested Love


Editor’s note: DC Service Corps volunteer PJ Herrera shares a reflection on his ministry work at So Others Might Eat (SOME).

               One of the things I’ve learned the most about through my year of service with FMS is the importance of relational ministry. When starting my year here, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that phrase. It’s not that I thought building relationships was unnecessary in ministry work. On the contrary, I have long agreed that for impactful and sustainable change to occur, it is necessary to listen to the people you are trying to serve. To that end, you need to build a rapport; but that is just good stakeholder engagement. Relational ministry is deeper than that and at its core, I think, is the phrase “disinterested love.” Disinterested love, in my understanding, is loving someone for the sake of God and no other reason. It does not seek a return on investment or have any goal other than to love Jesus Christ in and through the person in front of you. I get to practice this kind of love each Friday at SOME.

You see, at Shalom House, where my office is located, they have a weekly coffee hour on Fridays. Coffee hour is an informal time for staff and residents to get to know each other around some food and drink in a way that, at its best, breaks down some of the power structures that build up between us. Coffee hour is also often the highlight of my work week because it is one of the few times when I can truly develop disinterested relationships with residents. When I’m there, I’m not pushing any agenda (note: that agenda is usually for their personal health and wellness), I just get to be with residents, enjoying friendly competition and sharing laughter. The best part of coffee hour is probably the card games, and the card game I like the most is Spades, mostly because it’s the only one I know…

Spades, if you are wondering, basically involves two teams of two taking turns playing one card each of the same starting suit. After the four cards are played, the highest card of that suit wins, unless the trump (a spade) is played. This continues for 12 more rounds until all the cards in the deck have been played. I won’t go farther into the description, but suffice it to say that it is a game of deception, calculations, teamwork, and betrayal, which I get to enjoy every Friday!

In the last few months, I have learned the basics, been whooped, finally won, and then claimed my title as an acclaimed Spades player at Shalom House. Looking back, the entire experience speaks to me of disinterested love. Each week, I sat with some relative strangers and we slowly developed relationships based around a silly card game. When I lost, I wasn’t allowed to forget it, and when I won, the smile was hard to wipe from my face. Ultimately, though, I spent the time playing Spades because it offered a moment to relax and enjoy the company of people I would otherwise not be able to love so simply. In my ministry at SOME, I have been blessed with the opportunity to practice disinterested love every day, but perhaps the most obvious times I get to enjoy it is for a few hours on Fridays. It’s a relational ministry that I kinda just fell into and couldn’t be happier about.

Reflection question: How can you cultivate a habit of disinterested love in your own life?

PJ is serving at So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) during his year with DC Service Corps. While in the nation’s capital, he aims to build his professional experience to supplement his Master of Public Health degree from Boston University. PJ also wants to deepen his relationship with Jesus Christ through shared life with his Casa San Salvador community members. Finally, he hopes to continue his vocation discernment during this year of servant leadership formation. Please pray for PJ!