December 2021- February 2022
We Need Each Other
Through the Eyes of Love (Part One)
While completing my training to become a mental health counselor, I worked six months as an intern at an inpatient mental health hospital. Assigned to a unit of people with severe and persistent mental disorders requiring years of ongoing treatment, I provided a safe place for people to work through heavy issues.
One day after a particularly emotional session, I asked my supervisor, “How do you do this every day? How do you listen day after day to the hurt, pain, and trauma people suffer?”
Thirteen years later, his answer still affects my view of ministry. He said, “Never forget you and I are only one life event away from being exactly where our clients are. We do not deserve the blessed lives we live any more than our clients deserve to suffer from their illnesses. Only the unmerited grace of God makes my life what it is.”
Over the years, I have repeated these words a thousand times. I do not have a birthright to the blessings of God. I am not a Christian because I am worthy of God’s favor. I am nothing more than the recipient of divine grace and unmerited favor.
After losing everything he owned, Job declared, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). God was under no obligation to bless Job, yet He chose to do so. After Job’s life turned upside down, he continued to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Like Job, we must understand everything can change before the end of the day.
With this perspective in mind, a homeless person ceases to be a dirty, smelly nuisance. The immigrant struggling to communicate in English is no longer an annoyance. The Middle Eastern refugee is not scary or dangerous. They are all people, created by God, who need to experience His grace and love.
Respecter of Persons
In James 2:1-4, the Apostle addressed first-century Jewish Christians guilty of favoritism for the wealthy while treating the poor as undesirable nuisances. If their lives had been transformed by Jesus Christ, how could this possibly be? With strong words, James declared their motives purely evil (verse 4).
When our family first arrived in Spain, we wanted to learn firsthand about the plight of the refugees and immigrants we desired to reach with God’s love. We already knew the statistics about this people group from research. But to understand their lives more fully, we began serving as volunteers at various social outreach centers. Most time was spent volunteering with a secular organization that distributed government-subsidized food. Without a doubt, needs were met. However, two things quickly became evident to us: the needs far exceeded the current infrastructure, and ever-present hopelessness haunted the people we helped.
Their stories were as different as night and day. Some refugees had been wealthy professionals whose countries imploded due to civil unrest or war. Others fled the poverty and disease plaguing their rural villages. Others made their way to a new country seeking medical treatment unavailable in their home countries. Although their histories were different, they all shared a sense of hopelessness and alienation.
When we prepared to launch our own outreach center, our conviction was to serve each person with dignity and kindness, remembering each one is created in the image of Almighty God. We greet each person with a smile, call them by name, and intentionally communicate they are welcome at the center. Why? We believe each life has worth.
The Lord commands His followers to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18b). Jesus reinforced this idea when He declared this commandment to be second only to the command to love the Lord with all our hearts (Mark 12:29-31). James later deemed this commandment the royal law (James 2:8).
This commandment is easier to obey when our neighbor is from a similar socio-economic background, and we merely need to be kind to show them the love of Jesus. But this commandment drastically stretches us when we are called to love someone who has not bathed in a week and is desperately in need of food to survive. Perhaps this same person is exceptionally lonely, ostracized by society, and seeking a friend.
What does it look like to love the marginalized?
Several months ago, a homeless man walked into the outreach center and asked if he could speak with me. I smiled
and said, “Of course.” We stepped into a semi-private area and began to discuss his needs. I had known the man for several months but had never had more than a simple conversation while he picked up his weekly food allotment. Most people stepped aside or ignored him entirely because he smelled bad, looked disheveled, and appeared to have a very loose grasp on reality.
That day I chose to spend ten minutes with him. Afterward, he collected his food and left. In the following months, the conversations became more frequent. I discovered he is highly educated, a published author, and once enjoyed a successful career. But after losing his wife and daughter tragically, he was unable to rebound.
Honestly, he is not the easiest person to love, but God formed him in His image. His life has value. I choose to reach out to him with the love of Jesus and pray he will eventually accept God’s offer of salvation.
Read Luke 8:43-48. Jesus, our ultimate example of love, was walking through a crowd when an extremely sick woman sneaked up behind Him and touched His clothes. Chronically ill for years, she had exhausted all possible medical treatment. It appeared she was doomed to suffer for the remainder of her days. To make things worse, her specific illness made her perpetually ceremonially unclean. She was both ostracized from society and cut off from worshiping in the Temple. In an act of desperation, she reached out to Jesus. Even though her touch meant Jesus was now ceremonially unclean Himself, Jesus reacted with kindness. Once the woman revealed herself to Jesus, He tenderly called her “daughter” (verse 48). By faith, she was accepted by God, making her a recipient of His loving care.
An immigrant woman in her mid-60s came to the outreach center. She appeared physically exhausted, so we offered her a seat and a cup of water. After she caught her breath, we attempted a conversation with her, only to learn she did not speak Spanish or English—only Arabic. Thankfully, another immigrant lady we knew arrived and kindly translated for us.
The woman had arrived a month earlier seeking medical treatment. Diagnosed with cancer, coming to Spain was her only hope for survival. Arriving alone, she went directly to the hospital, where she was admitted and treated. Now, however, she is dependent on the charity of others for survival. We have since prayed over her and had frequent conversations with her through translation (or even simple hand gestures when translation was unavailable). We have watched her health deteriorate, knowing Jesus is her only hope. Though frustrated by our inability to communicate directly, we are thankful for each interaction God allows. Jesus has not yet called her daughter, although He longs to do so. Nor has He healed her, although He is powerful enough to do so.
Showing the love of Jesus to this poor lady is not easy. It is emotionally exhausting to be moved with the love of Jesus for someone with whom you cannot communicate directly. The easy thing would be to acknowledge we are not equipped to minister effectively, shrug our shoulders, and walk away. But that is not what God has commanded His Church to do. We have been called to love everyone we encounter regardless of circumstances, religious background, ethnicity, or “baggage” they carry.
We must always remember two biblical truths. First, we do not deserve God’s blessings any more than the hurting people around us. Second, if we show favoritism or “have respect to persons, [we] commit sin” (James 2:9). Let’s strive to see people the way Jesus sees them and love them the way He does.
What does that help look like? In the next issue, North American Ministries church planters Tim and Amanda York will look to the life of Jesus on earth, how He healed individuals as part of His loving ministry. While we will never wield authority over sickness like Jesus, we can learn from how He met the physical, mental, and emotional needs of people to create an environment where they can best hear the truth of the gospel.
About the Author: Chris and his wife Tori are graduates of Welch College. A practicing mental health counselor, Chris also served in youth and pastoral ministry prior to the couple’s transition to cross-cultural ministry. They have served with The Hanna Project since 2012, living and working among refugees in southern Spain. Learn more: www.HannaProject.com.