Finding Your Voice

“10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’

-Exodus 4:10-12

If you’ve ever hung around me or my family, you would realize we have no problem talking. The conversation at our dinner table runs at a pace fast enough to scare a stenographer away and my friends often ask me to “repeat that” or “sloooow down”. For me, it’s not the act of speaking that is hard, but the work of using just the right words so that my message isn’t hidden in a pile of useless fluff.

In the verse above you see Moses questioning his own ability to speak, afraid of saying the wrong thing, and in other verses around this he asks for his brother Aaron to speak. Aaron was a great speaker, a strong leader, but not the one that was needed at the time. Many times, we find ourselves in the place of Moses, with a nagging sense of unpreparedness (no matter how much is planned out) or a sense of “not being the right fit”. Sometimes it’s just doing something for the first time, without any form of training wheels to lean on. We feel the need to lean on our own Aaron, those who we see as more skilled and readier than us. But the Lord, who assures Moses here, also assures us. For in each person lies the spark of connection, the ability to have the Lord speak through us.

This advice has spoken strongly to me at one of our partner agencies, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. Every Wednesday morning, we take a group there, first to worship with the whole community of the area, with bankers and those experiencing homelessness, all together in one row. After worship we assist in serving a breakfast for all, and then proceed to eat alongside all of our neighbors there. For many youth, I’ve noticed the most transformative and challenging part of working at St. Marys isn’t the serving or the worship. It’s when the service turns from labor-based service (serving food) to connectional and relational service that many youth start to feel a sense of struggle and growth. As soon as they finish serving many come up to me asking for the next task. With most of the serving done at that point I tell them to “make a new friend” or “talk to someone and learn their story”. There is an instant “deer in the headlights” expression on their faces and questions like, “well how do I just go and talk to someone” and “what do you mean ‘learn their story’” pop up. But I remind them of the passage above, as we normally use it as a devotional earlier in the week. They are reminded that simple questions can lead to complex answers, that their voice can be strong, that a smile and conversation can mean just as much as a plate of food.

Many youth “strike out” on their first attempt in talking to someone, sometimes due to nerves, others to the fact that they picked to talk to someone who was still eating. But by the second or third person they talk to you can see the power of relational ministry occurring. You can see stories being told, of future dreams, of children now grown up, of spouses moved on, of both great beauty and great loss. The youth always come back to me, full of information about their new friend they have made and with a newfound confidence carrying them. They have leaned into what Moses was told to do and require no more help from their own Aaron. They are no longer the timid Moses who was startled by a burning bush, but now the Moses who demanded the release of captive Israel, being an advocate.

We end the week with each participant writing down one person or issue they will carry home with them on a shared piece of art. This does two things. First, it lets the participants begin to process what they have experienced. Second, it gives them something to advocate for when they return home, now emboldened to speak out about who they met and establish even better connections to those around them, becoming that advocate.

No one goes into a time of service feeling fully prepared, ready to do everything. But I think we can all be Moses in those situations, ready to speak to what the Lord needs us to do. And if all else fails, a quote from FDR can easily guide, “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.”


Vance Stiles is a summer intern with Memphis Youth Mission.  He attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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