I never intended to leave a discouraged note as my most recent blog entry for nearly two months. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that I felt the trip was futile, or that I remain convinced there was no reason for me to be there. Really, it’s quite the OPPOSITE. I started the trip focusing on my own weaknesses and inabilities, instead of realizing how powerful God is to work through my failings. Sometimes (most times) it takes me a while to get what God is trying to say to me.
For the next four days of the trip, we had medical clinic every morning and afternoon, in a different location every time. I want to warn you, dear hearts, that if you ask God to break your heart for what breaks his heart, he will answer that prayer. My heart was ruined for the people we saw. And the ruination of my heart only served to sharpen my feelings of helplessness. We didn’t have many translators, so the most conversation I could make while I took vitals was Hello, how are you, please sit, we’re done.
I feel I need to pause here and explain that I don’t effervesce with affection for others. At the clinics, I found myself overwhelmed with love for several specific people we treated, and in general for almost everyone we met. In light of my general disaffection, I know that love did not come from my own nature. It was and is a painful and precious gift.
|Not Mahmoud, but equally sweet|
One older woman sticks particularly in my memory. As I took her blood pressure, she was smiling so warmly that I introduced myself (in shamefully bad Arabic) and asked her name. Mary, she told me, and thinking of the Marys of the Bible and struck with how lovely and matronly this Mary was, I told her her name was beautiful. She laughed and, like an affectionate grandmother patted my cheek, saying “La, anti jameela!” “No, you are beautiful!” When she came back through to get her medicine from the pharmacists, she immediately stuck her arm in mine, bubbling and laughing and presumably telling me some funny story that I didn’t understand in the least. And I loved her terribly then, and still do, and I still dwell on my inability to tell her why I was there, because Christ loved her, and wonder if she reads the Bible we gave her. And I think of Mahmoud, a boy of about ten who wandered shyly into the triage room and told us his friend in school was from America, whose eyes lit up in wonder when I let him listen to his own heart with the stethoscope.
This was all a marvelous plot set-up for how God was going to reveal himself.
Midway through the week, I cried out to God to show me that he was there, working, and victorious when I was unable to see the fruit of the seeds we sowed. I’ve heard so many reports of mission trips where 30, 40, 100 or more come into the Kingdom. I wanted to see that fruit, but without seeds there’s no harvest.
On the last day, at the last clinic, God gave us a gift. We were all tired, hot, and suddenly overwhelmed by at least 20 or 30 field laborers who came in at the last half-hour. We needed to be somewhere, and we only had enough translators for one doctor, and frustrations were mounting. Most of these men complained of backaches, tooth pain, etc. One, though, had put on his registration as his symptom: “Unhappy.” In the midst of the chaos, Tommy, my co-triager, realized that here was an opportunity for something beyond physical healing. He pulled aside the pastor we were working with, and together they took the man, whom we’ll call Victor because that’s what his name means, to a quiet place to talk. This is what Tommy told us happened:
Tommy and the pastor asked Victor why he had put that he was unhappy. Victor replied,
“Nobody loves me.”
“Well, I love you!” said Tommy, with the pastor translating and adding,
“I love you, too! And Jesus loves you.”
He didn’t divulge the details of the rest of the conversation, and there are some experiences too deep and vulnerable to tell of in print. But when Victor, Tommy, and the pastor emerged, Victor’s face, previously downtrodden, was new. I don’t know how to explain it, but you can see the change when a person chooses Christ. Buoyant and awed describe it a little bit. As word got around among the Christ-followers there, the mood turned. A new brother! The rest of the day passed in joy, as I remember. I don’t know if the pastor was able to keep in touch with Victor, he said he would try, but it will be hard for Victor, as his coworkers and almost everyone around him will likely disapprove of his faith.
|I miss this coastline|
Like I said, God ruined my heart. He ruined it in the best possible way. I believe that discipleship is a journey, and oftentimes spiritual growth happens in such small steps that we don’t notice it until we look behind and see how far God has brought us. However, I also believe that there are experiences which radically alter the course of your discipleship in a very short amount of time. I learned so much about faith and trust and God’s unstoppable GLORY in that short trip to the Middle East. As I try to work out what it means to live here like we lived there, in those ten days, I dream of the day I’ll be able to go back. For the second time in the course of a year, God wrecked me for the Middle East.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will fined it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”