When Jesus walked the earth, He didn’t teach His disciples how to lead a bible study. Nor did He teach them how to convert people. Jesus didn’t send His students to seminary or to ministry-training conferences. No. His heart was set on far more important things. When Jesus walked the earth, He taught His disciples how to love.
Love is the mission.
Today marks the 10th official day that the Global Urban Trek of Thailand has been on site (post-orientation). Each of the four teams have a unique opportunity to learn from and partner with organizations that are trying to figure out how to bring the Kingdom of God to some of the most marginalized populations in the world, such as victims of human trafficking, modern-day lepers, and refugees. For decades, these “ministry veterans” have been pouring out their lives in sacrifice to ensure that love and justice are delivered to those the world has deemed unworthy of it.
My team (of 4) and I have the privilege of partnering with the Ruth Center, an 8-year old ministry that is working to address the issue of the large elderly population that has been literally cast aside by society. Many of these elderly have been abandoned, ignored, and forgotten because of relational crises, financial problems, etc. and are left to live on their own.
This summer, Michael, Janet, Victoria, and I will be taking care of some grandmas and grandpas. We will be making sure their daily needs are met and building a relationship with them. We will be grocery shopping with them, doing laundry with them, watching dramas with them, and the like. Yes, I know, it’s not the most glamorous testimony, but I believe Jesus is presenting to us a special invitation: to practice the Incarnation. To be subject under the same living conditions as their own. To share meals together. To breathe the same sweet fragrance of the slums. To use the same squatty-potty. To share the same mosquito net at night. To share life together. To make their struggles our struggles and to make their joys our joys. To weave our own thread of life into their’s.
This is how we met Poon-Tam. Michael and I call him Daa, which means “Grandpa” in Thai, and we will be his grandsons for the summer. Daa is quite the enigma, to say the least. He has tough skin (literally and figuratively) yet he’s a softie for little children and kittens. We’re still trying to figure him out.
To put it lightly, living with this man has been one of the most difficult and mentally straining challenges we’ve had in a while. Communication with Daa quickly saps are our energy to the point of exhaustion and simple house chores that should take 10 minutes can take up to an hour. Daa doesn’t have RBF per se, but I have yet to meet another man who can match his level of stoicism. He is a man of few words and his expressions rival that of a brick wall.
Perhaps the most challenging obstacle I have yet to surmount is Daa’s lopsided tendencies to balance encouragement and rebuke. The past 10 days have been a draining trial-and-error process of learning how to take care of Daa’s needs and get household tasks done. Because of the language barrier, we often have to play a time-consuming guessing game with each other before any work is accomplished. I have quickly observed that it is really easy to know that you are making a mistake, as Daa has quite a talent for letting you know you messed up. On the contrary, his affirmations are subtle, almost invisible, so you best be paying attention.
As someone who has not heard, “I’m proud of you”, a whole lot growing up, I crave for any verbal affirmation I can get, and to an unhealthy extent, I might add. As you can imagine, I would not thrive in an environment like Daa’s home. I feel like a fish out of water and I don’t like being reminded of how that feels. It is as if salt is being rubbed on a wound that has been open since childhood.
One of my favorite things about reading the biographies of Jesus is being able to laugh at the disciples for how bad they are at following Jesus, only to be promptly notified by the Holy Spirit that I am actually just like them. “How hard could it be to love your neighbor? You guys are noobs.”
Within the first five days of being on-site, God had already reminded me that I had a limit to my love and that Daa was outside of it. Before I had even met him, I had already unknowingly trapped Daa with an unrealistic expectation to show me affirmation in the way that I needed it. And if he didn’t meet those expectations, I shouldn’t have to show him any of my love.
The reality is, direct and verbal affirmations will probably always be of utmost importance to me but I may go through the entire summer without receiving any of it from Daa. Even if he does give it, I probably won’t understand it because we speak different languages.
And therein lies the question of the century: How do I love this man? How do I love someone who I don’t know loves me back? Some dude once said, “relationship is a two-way street” but what if the other person isn’t willing to meet you in the middle? What if they can’t? Are we still expected to love?
It’s hard for me to even fathom that type of love but Christ did it, and it kind of changed everything. I guess I haven’t fully discovered what unconditional love means. I get the feeling that Jesus wants to show me and that may very well be the reason why I’m here this summer. That maybe this trip isn’t so much about the change I can bring to Thailand, but rather, the change that God is going to bring into my heart.
“Jesus, I thank You that You did not wait for me to reciprocate, or even know Your name, before showing me Your love. Remind me of how good Your Good News is. Take my withering heart and expand my capacity to love those whom I have forgotten how to love.”
After Jesus was resurrected, three times He asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?”, to which Peter would respond, “Of course, dude.” Jesus would then command Peter each time, “Then feed my sheep.”
Love is the mission.