To love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.
Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Always standing a safe distance away.
As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realising what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.
If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes.
But this is not the attitude of love.
I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that somehow I would come into contact with someone's blood. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.
“While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.” – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)
Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the fact that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.
This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want to focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the 'untouchable.'
Ivy, previously a city girl rushing into the Taipei metro everyday, now enjoys walking around beautiful villages at Lake Tanganyika, Zambia. She likes to listen to people's stories and write newsletters (really a rare species). Her dream is to become the shortest giant in the world.