One of the things I love about traveling is experiencing a new culture. Honduras and the Dominican Republic were similar, as they both had Spanish roots, but India was a completely different story. The way that the people did life was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Part of this was due to their Hindu religion, their belief in reincarnation, and the caste system. Talk about culture shock…
It’s interesting to me how we adapt to new cultures like this. Not only do we adapt, but we willingly throw ourselves into it just so that we can be changed by it, understand it, and experience other human’s lives that are affected by it. That’s a huge part of missions work. The goal is to understand the culture so that you can be affective in ministry.
Almost every Monday evening over my last semester, our team has met at our faithful team leader’s house to begin preparing our “mental suitcase”. That is, all the tools we need to carry with us that will be used once we get to Swaziland. Starting off, we listened to podcasts from Joe Noonen, the chaplain at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Over and over he taught us to adapt phrases like, “Whatever, whenever, however. No rights, no control, no power.”
After we finished the podcasts, we had students from previous years’ trips come to give us advise and prepare us for what’s to come. Then we went over packets that explained pertinent aspects of the culture, such as shaking hands with our left hand visible and touching our right hand, or the possibility of being proposed to regularly. Although these things seem silly to us, we adapt to their culture because we want to be respectful of the culture we’re entering in to.
As I finish preparations for the trip in a couple days, learning phrases like “Saubona” and “Niabonga” become an essential part of my mental suitcase. If I attempt to help them physically and can’t speak a lick of their language, there’s no way I’d be able to have the same impact on them as if I was able to give them a warm greeting in their own language. If I treat them and send them on their way, and can’t even begin to speak words of truth into their lives, or love them in a way that surrenders my own background to edify them, than my efforts are useless.
This isn’t a concept I understood until I saw it in the person of Jesus. Only a God that was committed to meeting us where we are would become human, the lowliest position, to show us a love that’s undeserved. The clearest picture of mercy, intertwined in a perfect God-Man. Yet we constantly complain, saying that He isn’t present enough for us, so He went even further into intimacy with us by placing Himself literally inside of us through His spirit.
One of my favorite verses shown in almost every gospel book represents how I view medical missions, or the mission of Jesus in general. As He called Matthew, a tax collector, an outsider and cheater, hated by most of the culture, He used Matthew as a means to reach other tax collectors. He came to them, sat with them, ate with them, and spoke truth to them. When asked about His actions, Jesus said in Matthew 9:12-13, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
He doesn’t wait for us to come to him once we’ve cleaned ourselves up, He meets us where we are- hurting, broken, and shameful. The phrase ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ comes from Hosea 6:6. The word mercy here (hesed or חסד in the original text) is pretty interesting as it has two incredibly important parts to its meaning. In the Psalms, this word was used to describe God’s attitude to man, and man’s attitude to man. In both cases, the foundation is built on covenant and how we live that out.
Hesed combines the ideas of love and loyalty, both of which are essential. On one hand, it is meant to convey the idea of the steadfastness and persistence of God’s sure love for His covenant-people. Israel messed up ALL THE TIME, yet God pursued. God’s loving-kindness is sure, and it doesn’t let up. Although Israel was faithless, God remained faithful still. The loving-kindness of God towards Israel, therefore, was wholly undeserved.
The ‘not sacrifice’ part of the verse comes into play when we understand God’s mercy in light of His justice. There is no reference to hesed apart from repentance. However, the two part phrase ‘mercy, not sacrifice’ shows that the loving-kindness of God means that His mercy is greater than our lack of faith. The word stands for the wonder of His unfailing love for the people of His choice, something that we fail to accept and understand. We constantly put up ‘sacrifices’ before God, whether we try to clean ourselves off to appear untainted, or present actions as means for our justification. But God came for the sick, for the broken, for those with nothing to offer. All He desires of us is to come and taste His goodness.
The second part of hesed in regards to the relationship between man and man. We see this use of the word emphasized in the story of Ruth toward Naomi. Hesed is used to represent love, grace, and kindness in a way that it completely focused on others. It is a selfless love that is dependent on the covenant relationship with God. Surrender to God and understanding His desire for mercy leads us to serve in selfless love.
A little lost? Here’s how this all comes full circle. God meets us where we are, pursues us in our brokenness, and as a result, we get to serve in a way that reflects that covenant. We get to meet others where they are, whether it’s down the street or in Africa. We meet their needs- not our own. We sacrifice our time, our resources, our own needs because God has already provided for us the most intimate form of strength we could ask for: Himself in us. Pretty cool huh? That breaks every cultural or social barrier we could run in to, while still leaving our hearts full. I feel like if I can pack my mental suitcase with a little more of that, Africa won’t seem so far away.