Boston was the place where my eyes were first opened to poverty. “Why are those people sleeping in a box mommy?” It was at this place and point in my life that I can now look back and see that God was at work. Seeing the homeless community for the first time really rocked my world as a ten-year-old boy. I returned home from that experience and immediately starting asking my parents how I could help. We devised a plan that included picking up aluminum beer and soda cans along the road on the way home from church. I collected and recycled the cans and took the money and gave it to a homeless mission in Philadelphia called “Trevor’s Place”…
I remember stepping onto the back of a flatbed truck in Port au Prince Haiti and taking a ride through town. It was my first experience out of the US and my first time ever seeing extreme poverty. The sites, sounds and smells were absolutely overwhelming. I spent three weeks in Haiti serving the Haitian people with medicine and love. It changed my cultural perspective and my life direction…
Every time we see a mountain my daughter will say… I miss Bolivia. The memories and pictures will forever be engraved in our minds. After living in Bolivia for several years our family grew to love the Bolivian people and culture. It was tough, challenging and at times overwhelming but our experience was priceless. We have a daughter with Bolivian citizenship and another who will forever miss her preschool and precious friends. Bolivia holds a special place in our hearts and will forever…
The same can be said for Kenya, India, Swaziland, Cincinnati, Guatemala and many more.
In each experience has been a unique glimpse of God and everyone of them has shaped who I am.
From the aluminum cans to the dirt hut what has God been doing??
Being shaped through missions
The Bible is filled with passages that drive and motivate our “missions” efforts. Our call to GO and SERVE and LOVE are undeniable and obvious. It’s part of a selfless, kingdom driven mindset that should shape every disciple of Christ. Through the thousands of hours I have spent serving in other countries and at ministries around the US I have come to realize two very special realities. I consider them both gifts from God
1. God changes others through our obedience.
Being able to see a smile spread across a child’s cheeks or a family slowly being lifted out of poverty through the Truth of God is radically powerful. When the Lord allows us to see a small hint of the fruit of our labor it is life changing. It drives me to want to do more and more. I see my life as so much smaller and insignificant, and even more I see God’s love as so much larger and astonishing. The beauty of Christ is so evident in the joy of seeing others loved and cared for.
2. God changes us through our obedience.
I shared in my last blog titled “Loving Others: The Key to the Riddle of Completeness” about how God’s love can be made complete in us. I have found this truth to be so powerful in my own life.
On one of my early missions experiences in Africa I remember having a conversation with a man named Peter. He shared about his living in the slums and how he was thankful that God had given him the joy of living there. I remember walking away with an upside down feeling. The words “joy” and “slum” didn’t typically go together in my mind. God, however, was redefining my perspective through my new friend Peter. The angle through which I am forced to see life has been skewed forever.
Prisoners are scary, malicious and bitter people. That was my thought before entering the penitentiary to visit one. After several years of visiting the State Prison I now realize that inmates are real people struggling with tough real life decisions. They are gifted, funny and highly capable people seeking for the same meaning in life as me. They want and need to be loved, and I have found that they in fact sometimes even have a lot of love to give. Serving inmates has changed me. It has made me deeply appreciate God’s grace, challenged me to wrestle with forgiveness and caused me to recognize the power of a loving family.
“Grey” was what his friends on the street called him. I never really knew his real name but I was shocked to hear that he had a PhD in chemistry and had at one point been teaching at highly recognized conferences. What was he doing living on the streets of Cincinnati now?? I will always remember Grey’s face and the way in which he taught me to value the life behind the beard and the person behind every story.
God’s love being made complete
In my attempts to love the poor and vulnerable in this world God has showed me time and again his incredible character. I have been humbled, proven wrong, corrected and stretched in ways that make me different today. I see doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God as not mere words on a page but the very essence of who God desires his followers to be. I see how these words have shaped my decisions and impacted my stewardship. I see them giving me vision, fulfillment and a deeper passion to serve those in need.
Opportunities to love the poor and vulnerable are simply gifts from God. They are not the kind of gifts given to you that make you excited and anxious to open. They are, however, the kind of gifts that when opened sustain and shape you for a lifetime. God’s love will never be made fully complete in me until that end day, but I realize that in each act of love towards another I see God shaping me. I see him teaching and training me in his word and drawing me deeper in love with his heart.
I think that is the point of missions/loving others. Sure, God uses our love of others to build his kingdom and encourage others, but most of all I think God uses our love of others to shape us. He teaches us in our discomfort. He refines us in our failures. He humbles us in our opened eyes and he blesses us when we reflect his heart. God wants our full heartand there is no better way to connect to his love than through emptying ourselves for the sake of others.
I believe the same will be true for you. As you seek to love others God’s character will shape you and his love will be made more and more complete in you.Image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives/ Flickr.com