Serving God through Service to Others: or, How Justin Bieber Managed to Save What Could Have Possibly Been an Awkward and Ridiculously Uncomfortable Next Seven Weeks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I’m not a big fan of Justin Bieber. In fact, I don’t really think I am a fan at all. I once learned how to play his first big hit - “Baby” on guitar as a joke but never thought it would prove useful in any situation. However, this little skill potentially saved me as I, and a handful of girls headed to the Armenian Girl’s Home this past week for our first day of our service project. 

The phrase, “serving God through service to others” is one that is very close to my heart. As a Christian, I have learned that putting others before yourself is one way to show Christ’s love for another person. After all, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Laying down one’s life can mean much more than dying for someone. To me, it means letting my selfish nature slide, and allowing those around me to go before me. I love doing service projects, because it is one way for me to really see this in action. 

For the next seven weeks, a group of us girls will be doing a service project with an Armenian Girl’s Home, which houses girls from kindergarden age all the way up to high school. These girls are not orphans, but rather come from unstable homes. In other words, we were being sent to simply love on these children, show them kindness they may not see otherwise, and spend time with them for an afternoon once a week.

This week we began our service projects, and the girls, Kurt and I hopped on a bus headed to Kadikoy. The entire travel took about an hour, and all I could think about was what the next couple hours would hold. Would they like us? Can they speak english? What if we don’t get along? What if they can’t understand us? What if this won’t work? What if we get lost? The lurch of our bus around a tight corner shook me out of my worries for a moment. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that everything would be alright. Our bus screeched to a stop and I followed the girls and Kurt onto a minibus that would take us to Capitol, where the girl’s home is. 

I took a seat next to Emilie and Lauren, and remained silent for most of the ride. Emilie piped up as we neared our destination, simply saying, “Guys, we should pray before we get there!” Lauren and I both nodded and bowed our heads in the back of that tiny bus surrounded by other people, and Emilie began praying for what the next couple hours would hold. Praying for the girls we would encounter. The conversations we would have. The friendships we would develop. The love and kindness we would show them. Asking that God would settle our nerves and give us strength. Give us what was necessary to serve them wholeheartedly. 

As the amen sounded, the door opened and our driver shouted “Capitol!” and we all got off and took a short walk to the girl’s home. I was carrying Dana’s guitar on my back (which Kurt had asked me to bring prior to leaving), still a little unsure of what was about to happen. We walked through the doors, and was created by Sosi, one of the ladies in charge. She led us into a sitting room where we met the girls. 

The initial moments went something like this. There were 8 of us American girls on one side of the room, and then about 40 Armenian girls standing on the other side. None of us were saying anything. We introduced ourselves in Turkish, while the girls did the same in English. To be honest, it was a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Eventually we worked our way into the crowd, sat down with some girls and got to talking. The conversations seemed forced a bit, with limited language capabilities and the girls being shy. I met two girls who after a bit of coaxing from Sosi started to ask different questions to me which ranged from, “how old are you?” to “what is your ethnicity?” And then, the kicker question. “Do you like music?”

For starters, I LOVE music. I told them just that, and they replied the same, and began rattling off names of American singers and popular American songs, mostly hovering around tween Disney Channel stars. That’s when I first though of J. Biebs. “You like Justin Bieber?” I asked them. They eagerly nodded. I immediately jumped up and got Dana’s guitar out of her case, and sat down next to them. It was then I realized the entire room had gone silent. And I mean, like so-quiet-you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silent. Suddenly I felt extremely nervous. I heard Annie yell out, “play love on top!” but I didn’t know that one, so I asked if they wanted to hear Justin Bieber. They eagerly nodded once again.

I looked around at the others American girls as if to mentally beg them to sing along with me in case this all went terribly wrong. I started singing “Baby” by Justin Bieber (if you’ve never heard it - go watch the music video, please. It screams the word "tween") and as the American girls joined in, I saw smilies starting to form on the faces of the Armenian girls. Some of them were actually singing along! As we got to the first chorus, every single girl in that room was singing along to the words of good ol’ J. Biebs, in loud and proud voices. I caught Anna’s eyes as the girls were belting out the song and she couldn’t even sing she was laughing so hard!

The girls then started to throw out other songs. “Lemonade Mouth!” “Beyonce!” “Adele!” That one I knew. I don’t really know what other word other than joyful can describe what it is like to hear 40 little girls singing out the words to “Someone Like You” at the top of their voices, smiling and giggling along the way. We then asked them to sing a Turkish song for us, which they did loudly and proudly once again. The ice had officially been broken, and we had bonded.

From that moment on, through dinner and our time with them afterward, they girls were latched on to us. They did our hair, asked us more questions, read us our fortunes after drinking cups of Turkish coffee, and then asked for pictures as we said we had to get going. It was almost impossible to leave these adorable girls, who in their own way had been just as much as a blessing to us as we were to them. We promised we would be back next week, and that the fun would continue. As we bid them good-bye and stepped out into the cold (and now snowy) Istanbul night, my head was spinning.

I felt legitimately joyful. At ease with all that had worried me prior to this trip. The smiling faces of 40 little Armenian girls had changed me in only a few short hours. I could not wait to come back. As I walked next to Annie, she simply said, “this has been the best night of the trip so far.” I knew the feeling I was experiencing was not limited to myself. These girls had given us joy, what a joy it was to spend time with them! I smiled knowing we would be back next week, with more songs, games, and activities for the girls. It was going to be a grand seven weeks with them.

When I think of the phrase, “serving God through service to others,” I will now have to add an element after my experience with the Armenian girls. Those six words do not encapsulate the emotions I felt on my end. Yes, I was being a service to these girls, but they were doing just the same to me. In a place where I (and others) are feeling overwhelmed, a bit homesick, and stressed about school, these girls had allowed us to kick back, be goofy and play with them. Let go for a little bit, and just enjoy life. 

It’s not just serving God through service to others.
It’s serving God, serving others, and somehow along the way, being unexpectedly served and blessed, yourself. 

And I suppose I owe it all to Justin Bieber.
Go figure.

Respectfully submitted,


  1. Leah, I love this! What a sweet, precious experience. We have a glorious God who delights in surprising us, especially when we are open to the unexpected. I am so happy for you. You sound like you are in your element! Is there anything specific I can pray about for you?

    I miss you bunches, beautiful friend. Can we squeeze in a skype session soon?! I love you!