A Heart for the Face in Front of You

If you’re an ardent follower of Every Square Inch, you’ve probably read more about The Crossing’s mission trip to Harmons, Jamaica than anyone might care to. You might even be tempted to close your browser at this point, given that I just used “the J word” again.

The details are fascinating to hear, and the pictures can tug at your heart…but the real question in all of the stories you’ve read is – what difference does a trip like this make in the lives affected, whether Jamaican or American? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can at least tell you how God used this trip in my life to effect change.

I would fall into the camp of those who talked about the infirmary as being the most intense part of their time spent in Jamaica. You can’t imagine the place reading mere words on a page. The smell is pervasive, a combination of urine, old filth, and heat. The buildings photograph well; you miss the dirt, the stickiness and the stench when you glance at a shot of smiling Americans hugging elderly Jamaicans. And I noticed that flies apparently don’t register in photos. They were everywhere, dozens landing on food and feces and a sleeping woman’s lips. Here’s what else the pictures don’t show – bitterness, anger, self-pity and despair. That’s because amazingly, these are not emotions I saw registered in a single face of those consigned to live in what I imagine any American would have called disgusting conditions, completely unacceptable to us. Instead, the gentleness of the souls living in those conditions is what I think struck many of us in our group very deeply.

I spent my second day in Jamaica at the infirmary with four others from our group, including my youngest daughter, Claire. Those six hours I spent sitting on those filthy floors, shooing away those armies of flies and holding the hands and feet of those gentle souls as I painted their fingernails and toenails.

If you have been to my house, you would know I like my environment to be clean. My soul is restored by a day filled with bleach, Windex, dusting spray and vacuuming. I may even have a borderline “issue” with cleaning, as I’m almost incapable of sitting in a room that needs work done – ask my friends. In the middle of a conversation, I’ll pick up a rag and start wiping down counters and rubbing little fingerprints off of my stainless steel appliances.

I think the point is obvious. It wasn’t me sitting in those offensive conditions loving on those people. It for sure couldn’t have been me; I am simply not one to voluntarily put myself into that kind of environment. It must have been the Holy Spirit using me that day, attempting to show me how very much God loves His people. I choked back tears time and time again that day, and then let them flow on the drive back to Harmons when our day at the infirmary was over. I wasn’t crying because of the flies and the filth and the appalling way in which those poor people live, though. I was crying because I really felt God there, loving them through my hands. I saw His heart for them, and I felt Him giving me more of a heart for His people as well.

I came home convinced that God was calling me to identify the undervalued within my own city of Columbia, and to love on them in the same way I had at the infirmary. I sensed an urgency to not let this fire die down.

Once I got home, though, I found myself immediately immersed in the needs of the ministry my husband and I volunteer in. I was called to respond to a woman whose marriage is going through a rocky season, and who wanted someone to help her show faithfulness in loving her husband through it. I had several emails from people who have taken DivorceCare or who are interested in doing so this fall, asking questions about the BBQ my husband and I were planning to host for anyone who is or has gone through the devastating break-up of their marriage. More emails, more phone calls. More hearts in pain and in deep need of God’s touch.

It took me a few days, but I began to see that maybe God hadn’t called me to Jamaica to break my heart for His undervalued people. He called me out of my life, if you will, to break my heart for His peopleperiod. All His people. The face in front of me, whoever that is.

Jesus told his disciples shortly before his death, “If you love me, you will keep my word” (John 14:15, 14:23). He shortly thereafter clarified His statement further, exhorting his disciples to love one another as He had loved them (John 15:12). How better to obey Jesus than to love the face in front of us? Mother Teresa said of the people she spent her life ministering to, “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

So then, I am coming to realize that God’s plan for me through this mission trip was not “just” to develop within me a heart for the undervalued Jamaicans, though He certainly used them to work a change. It was also not “just” to develop in me a heart for the undervalued right here in Columbia, although I am open to there being a time in my life when I once again sit on the (hopefully cleaner) floor and paint little old ladies’ nails while we talk about the love of Jesus.

No, I believe God’s plan for me was far more simple. I think He wanted to “just” develop within me – and in all of us – more of a heart for people. I needed to see that I don’t have nearly the heart for people yet that He wants me to have – a heart like Jesus. And far from needing a “new ministry” in order to do this, He is showing me I need to develop more of a heart like Jesus for those He is already putting right in front of me, the souls I am encountering every day.

Do you have a heart for people, like Jesus calls us to? Do you see the deep needs all around you? People are lonely. People are hurting. They are confused and need someone willing to hold their hand and listen to them talk.

I think Jesus calls all of us who believe in Him to live out our entire lives as a ministry of love to the people right in front of us. All we have to do is open our eyes to the vast needs, right where we live, and be willing to be used when God calls us (Isaiah 6:8).

Matthew 25:34-40
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

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