Listening is risky: reflections from a HOPE intern trip

by Anna Hofmann (third from left), Writing and Research Intern

Listening is hard. True listening is an active and engaged process, we’re told.

But listening doesn’t feel that difficult or demanding. Yet, I’m learning that listening—true listening—doesn’t just require my full attention; it’s also risky. Here’s what I mean:

If you’re concerned with poverty alleviation (and if you’re following HOPE International, I assume you are), listening is especially difficult because it involves hearing about the multidimensional challenges of poverty—sometimes without an immediate “quick-fix” solution. Maybe you’ve experienced this on a short-term mission trip or during a volunteer opportunity in your community.

As interns at HOPE this summer, I and a few others had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic to witness the life-changing ministry of HOPE’s local partner, Esperanza International. The HOPE intern trip felt distinctly different from my past short-term mission experiences—we spent most of our time hearing the stories of men and women working with Esperanza. At times I was tempted to believe we weren’t “doing enough,” but this experience showed me the value of true listening.

Here are two reasons why prioritizing listening over “doing” can feel risky:

Listening implies you don’t know what’s coming

True listening has no leading agenda and leans in without desiring to control the end result or conclusion. It does not measure the value of one story over another. A good listener simply walks alongside and is attentively present.

On our trip, true listening seemed risky because we could easily feel guilt or uncertainty about how to respond to the realities of poverty. But if we hope to respond to people in a dignifying way, we must listen to the full story, both celebrating the victories and lamenting the ongoing challenges.

Listening requires trust over clarity

Listening requires that we humbly recognize that we do not have the answers. True listening leans in even when solutions remain unclear; it waits as God writes the final story.

As Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write in When Helping Hurts,

The curse [of poverty] is cosmic in scope, bringing decay and brokenness to every speck of the universe. But as King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus is making all things new! This is the good news of the gospel.”

In seasons of difficulty and victory, this posture of listening orients us to God’s larger plan and His enduring promises for each step of the way. He is making and will make all things new.

Embrace true listening by considering these two questions:

  1. Have I listened to a story, topic, or perspective recently that I had no previous knowledge of or experience with?
  2. How do I respond to problems and situations without a clear solution? Do I distance myself from complicated topics? Do I lean in and desire to learn more because I believe God writes the final story?

HOPE’s internship and fellowship program is designed for students seeking to develop spiritually and professionally. Learn more here and sign up to receive updates for our 2020 summer internships.

Anna Hofmann is a student at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), where she is studying business administration and media-journalism. 

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As Christ’s followers responding to His great love, HOPE International seeks physical, social, spiritual, and personal restoration in places of brokenness. Through Christ-centered microenterprise development, we empower men and women to strengthen their families, build their businesses, and unleash their dreams.

One response to Listening is risky: reflections from a HOPE intern trip

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    Anna’s blog and the thoughts that prompted it gets to the heart of compassion.
    We have a tendency to want to “fix” instead of trusting God’s mighty hand.

    Listening is loving. Leaning in and feeling an individual’s situation is opening wide the
    door to understanding.

    Wonderful insight in your writing, Anna! Thanks for sharing!

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