28th November, 1999  

  "Volunteers - Corpuscles in the Life Blood.'
  Mark 2:1-12

When one of my sons was a pre-schooler, he asked: "Dad. What does your blood do all day?" I had not long graduated from biology class, so I gave him what I had learnt in lectures from the Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Melbourne. Blood is a fluid that circulates in the arteries and veins of the body. Blood is bright red when it has been oxygenated in the lungs. It becomes bluish red when it has given up its oxygen to nourish the tissues of the body and is returning to the lungs through the veins and capillaries. In the lungs, the blood gives up the carbon dioxide wastes it has taken from the tissues, receives a new supply of oxygen, and starts round again. Blood brings life and removes wastes that can kill us.

Blood is composed of plasma, in which are suspended the millions of cells that constitute about 45% by volume of whole blood. An adult has about 5 litres of blood. A cubic millimetre of human blood contains about 5 million red corpuscles; 5000 to 10,000 white corpuscles; and about 250,000 platelets. Red cells are formed in bone marrow, live for about 120 days, then are removed by the spleen. Blood has the ability to clot. A clot is formed in response to tissue injury, a muscle tear, a cut, or a blow, to stop the flow. If the blood cannot clot we may bleed to death. A clot in a vein can travel to brain where it can cause a stroke. My son seemed to be satisfied with the description of blood and has not asked me since what his blood does all day! I asked him yesterday and he still seemed satisfied!

Volunteers in society are like the red corpuscles in the blood: they enable vitality, growth, remove waste, increase health and extend life! Volunteers are the corpuscles in the life blood! They are absolutely essential for society to be healthy.


Yet Volunteerism is under threat from many sociological forces that makes us constantly evaluate our position. In 1803 Governor King's wife established the Female Orphanage in Parramatta. This was to be followed by every other organisation founded mainly by women, from middle and upper classes, and out of Christian compassion. Each of these three aspects are today in decline. There is a disappearance of the traditional sources of volunteers. Once mothers supported schools in tuck shops and Mothers Clubs. Today most mothers leave children to go to work and so the school volunteer force declines. Auxiliaries for every good cause: in hospitals, churches, scout groups, sporting teams are short of volunteers.

Once youth clubs motivated teenagers to help others. Youth visited aged care homes and prisons, and raised funds for good works. Today, the pressures of study and the replacement of youth clubs by TV and video, mean most young people are absent from volunteer work. There has also been a decline in the concept of personal responsibility. People no longer feel a sense of obligation to give of themselves to help others.

For personal philanthropy has been replaced by a hedonistic, "me-generation" concerned primarily for themselves and personal pleasure. There is also a new self-protection motive of the public service and the caring professionals who want to keep volunteers away from any people contact. Some professionals just do not want volunteers about. Because of insurance claims, the volunteers are pushed out by paid staff.

Sometimes, the volunteer is a person of greater experience and that threatens the employee. With earlier retirement and enforced redundancy among executives following company mergers, there is a pool of highly competent, older executives who have adequate income from generous superannuation, who want to put something back into the community by working as a volunteer. But younger staff feel under scrutiny from an experienced volunteer. All of these problems threaten the volunteer force.


Yet volunteers have a continuing contribution to make. In fact, they are becoming more significant than at any time in history. They have some great contributions to offer the community that is seeing such complex economic and sociological changes. In a world that is getting increasingly complex and technologically orientated, the volunteer has become one of the chief sources of human contact. This is seen clearly in our hospitals, aged care centres, and in work among the disabled and abused children.

For example, Westmead Hospital has one of the most sophisticated cancer treatment units in the world. Every kind of high-tech equipment is used to defeat the ravages of cancer cells. Cobalt and radium treatments, chemotherapy, cat-scans, and a host of other methods can attack the disease from outside in and from inside out. But what happens when all of our equipment, tubes, machines and chemicals can do no more? The exhausted patient is blocking another person from having a positive result from the same treatment. They are occupying an expensive high-tech bed. People who are dying must get out of the way to allow for people who may live. The patient is taken to Wesley Mission's Lottie Stewart Hospital, to our special hospice where specially trained staff can keep them free from pain in a caring environment. Here they meet trained volunteers who visit each patient and stay by him or her as death approaches. These volunteers speak with understanding on the deep issues of suffering, pain, death, dying and the patient's relationships. Machines cannot replace those volunteers. Machines make volunteers all the more essential.

With the breakdown of the families and the loss of family support, both children from broken families and unwanted aged persons need volunteers to replace their natural families. Child-care staff provide care. But every child needs individual attention from people who spend time with them. In aged care, an increasing percentage of people are extremely old and extremely frail. They need loving care and personal interest which is only given by volunteers.

The rapid escalation of costs means that many organisations could not continue, if it were not for the economic benefit of the volunteer. At Wesley Mission we have over 3,000 volunteers, headed by Alan Bates. They contributed 165,000 hours last year, which would have required 83 additional staff at an extra cost of $2.265 million that we cannot afford! We can help more people in real need because of the financial saving created by volunteers. Additional staff are employed because of volunteer fund-raisers, and additional service delivery is made by the volunteers.

More important then even this is the fact that clients, with real needs, realises that other people think highly enough of them to give of themselves and their time for them. They feel valued, significant. If others are trying to help them recover voluntarily, then they too should make the effort! The trained staff realise they have an invaluable resource that can multiply their efforts and continue where the paid personnel must leave off due to time constraints.

In Christian work the volunteer brings more than personal help, financial support and physical labour. The volunteer brings care, interest, prayer support and the fellowship of the church. The spiritual commitment of volunteers adds something beautiful. Volunteer LifeLine telephone counsellors, who are on the telephones every hour of every day accomplish what professional psychiatrists and psychologists can never do. Your prayer and Christian fellowship is an extra dimension.


The volunteer discovers God's law of recompense: that the more you give to others in complete willingness and without thought of personal return, the more God rewards you, "pushed down and running over - a hundred fold," both here on earth and in heaven. "American Health" states: "in the body-mind economy the benefits of helping other people flow back to the helper. New research shows that doing good may be good for your heart, your immune system and your overall vitality."

Dr James House of the University of Michigan studied 2,700 adults for ten years and found that doing regular volunteer work in the community "more than any other activity, dramatically increased vitality and life expectancy." Men who did no volunteer work were 2 times more likely to die during the ten years than men who did volunteer work. Dr Eileen Rockerfeller and Dr Allan Luks write: "We can foresee a sudden rise of volunteerism. Just as people now exercise and watch their diets to protect their health, they may soon scrape peeling paint from their elderly neighbour's house, collect money for local charities, teach illiterates how to read, or clean up trash from a public park - all for the same self-protective reasons. Doing good for others is good for you." Volunteering helps others. It can also help yourself.

There is a remarkable Biblical account of how some volunteers made all the difference to one man. Four men brought their paralysed friend to Jesus for healing. They used their concern, their time, their labour, and their faith to care for a friend. v1 Jesus had returned to Capernaum, to the house of Peter and Andrew. v2 The house filled with people, and the overflow was so great that the space outside the door was blocked. v3-4 A typical Palestinian fisherman's house was a two-room structure with a flat roof. Access to the roof was by means of an outside stairway. The roof itself was usually made of wooden beams with clay tiles or compacted earth to shed the rain. When the four men realized it was impossible to enter by the door they carried their friend up the outside stairway to the roof. They removed the tiles, and lowered the man through the beams to the floor below.

v5 "When Jesus saw their faith" He accepted that man and healed him. It was not the faith of the paralysed man that enabled him to be healed, but the faith and commitment of his volunteer friends! v12 The man responded immediately. The cure was instantaneous, "in full view of them all". Volunteerism helps and heals! When you help others, God blesses them and you if your motives are right. Nothing is more important than to be right with God. This comes through coming to Jesus, and through believing in faith that Jesus can heal and forgive sins. We give this opportunity now to come to Jesus, to believe in faith, and to seek from Him, healing and forgiveness of sin. In so doing, you become one of His friends and part of the most wonderful body of volunteers for the Kingdom of God ever seen.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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