5 Life Lessons From the Mission

I had the privilege of volunteering at the River of Life Mission once per week over the course of four weeks during my trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. The River of Life Mission helps those in need to rebuild their lives by providing meals, clothing, job training, and recovery programs. During my volunteer work, I helped prepare supplies, helped with a Christmas giveaway event, and served lunch.


Working with the staff and interacting with the poor and homeless people who use the services of the River of Life Mission was a humbling and enlightening experience. I initially thought I would be helping the less fortunate, but in the end, I was the recipient of good fortune through the valuable life lessons learned.

These are the 5 life lessons I learned while volunteering:

Don’t judge.

Men, women, and children of all races and ages entered the Mission for its daily breakfast and lunch services. Some were recently released from prison, some were homeless, some were underemployed or unemployed, some were disabled, some had just moved to Hawaii, but each one had his/her own story. Their situations were a matter of circumstance that made it difficult to make ends meet.

No one should be judged for needing and using help. We all need help along the way.


Be considerate.

A man who had diabetes had taken a weekly pill box from one table during the Christmas giveaway and then found another on a separate table. Rather than taking both, he put the other one back and said to me, “I’ll leave that for someone else who needs it.”

People shared extra food with each other, poured water for each other, and waited patiently in line for hours to get their one good meal of the day.

We can all be a little bit more considerate to each other. Each small gesture of kindness adds up to make a big difference.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ~Lao Tzu

Be thankful.

People prayed before their meals and thanked God for their nourishment and health. People graciously thanked me for serving them their meals. One man even prayed for me—after I prayed for him—and said a simple prayer thanking God for my time and energy as a volunteer.

There is always something to be thankful for, even when you have very little.


Be hopeful.

Although the people at the Mission were poor, hungry, homeless, and/or destitute, they were not hopeless. In fact, they were full of hope. They still had life and wanted to make their wrongs into rights.

One man had a daughter to support even though he was three years out of prison and homeless. Another man had his whole life turn upside down when his house burned down, he lost his job, and his girlfriend left him in a matter of a few months. Both were still hopeful that tomorrow would be a better day.

Where there is life, there is hope, no matter how hopeless the situation may appear.

Give until it hurts.

I was just a volunteer helping out during the holidays. The staff were there every weekday for breakfast and lunch services. They cooked, cleaned, served, counseled, prayed, and did everything in-between. They gave their time and energy and gave some more. Their jobs weren’t glorious or high-paying, but they were some of the most generous people I have ever met.

“Give, but give until it hurts.” ~Mother Teresa

Give, then give some more. We all have something to give to others, so give us what you’ve got.


Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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  • Angela Moy Young

    Those are great lessons, Cliff. My husband and have started looking for places where we can volunteer as a family in the summer so that we as well as our children can learn these sorts of life lessons. My four year old may be more of a hindrance than a help, though…

    • That’s great that you’re having your kids start volunteering at an early age. I took my daughter at five-years-old to ring the Salvation Army bell for a couple hours during the holidays. She enjoyed the experience and I think has developed a greater understanding about giving.