Caring about those in need is good. Caring for those in need is better. Why did it take me so long to understand and act on this?
Neither Joline nor I had ever been on a “mission trip” until we were in our forties. My first such endeavor was coming to Uganda in January of 2010. Recognizing that if I could do it, so could she, Joline (accompanied by Jessica) went to Honduras six months later.
Looking back on why we waited so long to get personally involved in missions work, Joline and have been able to identify plenty of excuses. We both came from families of limited means – my parents were both public school teachers and there were four kids to feed and clothe, and things were even tighter for Joline’s family with seven kids at various times living under the roof of her blended family. We were both involved in sports and we (well, at least Joline) took our studies very seriously. Additionally, growing up, our worlds were quite small. We could recognize third world countries on maps, but had little information about them and no one we knew was going there. Our experiences were limited to periodic reports from the few missionaries our small church supported. Both of us cared about the suffering and oppressed around the world. We had contributed over the years to various mission-related organizations and groups and are sponsoring a child through World Vision. This support is, of course, critical to the whole mission enterprise, and I don’t at all want to diminish its importance. Indeed, providing financial resources can make a huge difference in the lives of the recipients, as my former student Holly proved by organizing a crew of people to bless Henry’s family as I posted about here.
But we had done virtually nothing to care for those in need in person.
When we were praying about whether we would respond to what we believed to be the recent call to Africa, we gradually came to the realization that perhaps this call was more about our children than it was about us. We ultimately concluded that it was time for us to move beyond caring about and get to caring for.
This distinction had been brought home to me in a different context early in my teaching career. Ken Elzinga, a renowned economics professor at the University of Virginia, had visited Pepperdine and delivered a series of lectures about what he thought it meant to be a Christian professor. One of the points he made irrevocably changed me from that moment forward. When students come to your office with challenging life problems, he implored the audience of professors, don’t just tell them you will pray for them. Instead, take the opportunity (and the risk) and ask them if you can pray with them, right then and there, he encouraged. In other words, be present with them in their pain and struggles, rather than caring about them from a distance. Since then, I have endeavored to pray with my students whenever the opportunity arises.
Our time in Africa has been deeply impacting for Joline and me; it has been life changing for our children. They are not hearing and praying about abandoned orphans and lonely widows. They are holding them, singing to them, praying with them.
One of the events God used to start working on my heart was a visit to Pepperdine by Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords who is one of the leading humanitarians of this generation. One of our students asked her whether it is better to visit the oppressed around the world or to instead send the money it would have cost to visit in person. Her response made a significant impact me and prepared me to heed the call to Africa when it came at the end of a Bob Goff speech in 2009:
“Please go. The fact that you visit . . . will be a great comfort for those people you do visit, because the kind of people we have been talking about, they often feel forgotten . . . and the fact that you care enough to go will be a blessing to them. You don’t necessarily have to take anything specific in terms of professional skills. The fact that you are there will mean a lot to them – you care enough to leave your comfort zone, you care enough to go. And when you come back, you’ll be able to be an advocate for them . . . Other opportunities will open up which will show you your way forward through whatever door God may want you to go through in your life . . . When you come back, you’re going to have a massive ripple effect.”
I have been privileged to see this modeled in several individuals who have become heros to me, three of whom have written books about how God whispered (or yelled) to them to become involved. While I have only read one of these books, I highly recommend all three. The first is “Kisses from Katie.”
I have written about Katie Davis previously and have very much enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her here in Uganda. She is a remarkable young woman and her book is about how and why she ended up moving to Uganda at the age of 19, and how and why a few years later she is the mother to 13 girls and the director of a huge ministry serving a large portion of a poor, rural area in Uganda.
The second is “Love Does” by Bob Goff.
This book was just released in the United States two weeks ago, but doesn’t come out on Kindle or Audiobooks until May 1. I am positively jealous of my friends who have already read this book. As I have written about previously, Bob is the person most directly responsible for the Gashes moving to Uganda. The reviews are uniformly favorable for this inspiring book about love in action.
The third is “Go and Do” by Jay Milbrandt.
Jay’s book was also released in the United States earlier this month, but just came out on Kindle yesterday. I have downloaded it and have already begun to dig into it. As detailed in Chapter 14 of Jay’s book, Jay was integrally involved in convincing me to come to Uganda in January of 2010. Chapter 14 also provides an overview of how and when Henry and I met and kindly alludes to the book Henry and I are writing about how our lives providentially collided.
In addition to these three members of my cloud of witnesses, I am also encouraged and inspired by the Gregston family (our Twin Family) as they continue to travel around Uganda providing medical care to those who otherwise have no access to it. They have been “adopting” various children with serious medical needs along the way and arranging for life-saving treatments and operations that would otherwise be out of reach to them. I encourage you to follow along with their blog here if you are not already doing so.
I have also been regularly inspired by my students at Pepperdine, many of who travel around the world to serve those in need. Equally inspiring, however, are the students who regularly feed the day laborers at the Malibu Labor Exchange, who drive down to skid row in Los Angeles to assist the homeless in various endeavors at Pepperdine’s legal clinic at the Union Rescue Mission, and who visit incarcerated youths at a local detention center.
It is self-evident that there are innumerable opportunities, locally and internationally, to care for those in need. I have come to the realization that simply caring about them isn’t enough anymore.