I really loved the people of my host country before we went. I mean, I prayed for them, I sacrificed for them, I fought for them and advocated for them, I spoke in front of groups for them! It was a God given love fueled by excitement at what the future could be.
And then we moved there.
For awhile the excitement held through the stressors. The new houses, the new tastes, the new language and the new people all brought with them a sense of adventure and the future still held such promise. I loved the people and I loved their smiles, they were so friendly, and I just knew God would do amazing things.
Then we were robbed. Then I was sold eggs for triple the price. Then I was blamed for things that weren’t my fault. Then I was yelled at as we walked the streets. Then we were touched and grabbed until my children would cry and as my language improved I began to understand the words behind those friendly smiles.
Sometimes smiles hide the meanest words.
My love for my people dwindled. In fact, it bordered on non-existent, which I hear is quite normal for a newbie first termer such as myself, but I miss the old me who loved. The old me who was so passionate. The old me who was untouched by the reality of humiliation and stress. I miss the old idealistic me.
It must be by God’s design that I now find myself deeply enmeshed in 1 John, a book of love.
Love your brother.
Love one another.
Those who abide in God’s love.
Those who know God’s love.
I want to ask these questions of God, “But, who IS my brother, really? Do I have to love these people or can I just love my fellow Christians? Can’t I just love those who love me back? Those who help me? Those who are kind to me? Do I have to love those who despise me? Those who use me? Those who objectify me?”
I don’t know, it sounds so Christ-like to love like that, but I want so desperately to hold onto my anger, to find a loophole that delivers me from the pressure to love those who disdain me and end the war raging in my soul.
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
I feel it in my bones.
True love, love that comes from God, is a love that doesn’t need to be met with equal love, or any love, for that matter. It’s a love that perseveres through the mocking humiliation that comes daily.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
True love is expressed in death, his death, my death, our death and it brings life.
“So, death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:12
My death = Their life
It is really quite easy to love someone theoretically from a distance, it is quite another to be faced with a daily death of self, where your weaknesses are exposed and your value is diminished, where you feel unsafe and insecure. That kind of love MUST come from God alone and that love is the real Christ exposing love.
This kind of God given sacrificial love actually requires real life sacrifice and there is a tension in my soul because true sacrifice is true loss and I feel it. I believe Christ felt it too. The pain from the mockery, the tiredness from the crowds, always misunderstood. Yet he endured, with joy, for our sake, to manifest perfect love.
I miss idealistic me because of the passion I once had to see people changed by the gospel, but old idealistic me didn’t truly love this people, how could I? The love had not yet been tried. Now I have an opportunity, an exciting one, to love for real and to love as Christ loves, unconditionally for the sake of those who have not yet heard.
To walk what Jesus walked and manifest his love by willingly accepting the humiliation that has and will come.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Colossians 1:24
What have you been learning about loving those you came to serve?
Did you find it was “love at first sight” when you got to your host country? Or did love have to grow?