When I was little, I thought I possessed the same power every 6 year old who rides in a van with automatic doors does- the power to open inanimate objects with the words “open sesame”. I’d walk up to automatic doors, say the magic words, and they would open. Obviously the older you get, the more you realize how silly the idea is. Of course we don’t have that kind of power. Especially in America we pride ourselves in our grip. Strength is seen as being able to hold on to something tight enough to be able to control it. The better you manage your grip, the more power you receive. Failure is seen in letting go of what we were holding on to.
Sitting in the airport reflecting over our trip, I asked the team to update their second week evaluations and observations. God was growing us in different ways, and we all got to be a part of the other’s experience. We came in with expectations that we were holding on to pretty tight. We had our hands wrapped around the ideas of how things should work, how people should act, what our rights are, and what we didn’t like. The problem with closed hands as we found out, is that you miss out on what they actually need to be filled with.
Last Sunday we were able to sit and talk with Echo VanderWal, one of the founders of The Luke Commission. I asked her, looking back at all it took to get where they are today, what her advice would be for us as college students. She told us to move where God moves, to have active faith that He will provide, and not to be afraid to fail. This meant a lot to all of us, but I think it meant so much because we had experienced what doing all of those things looked like through TLC.
I’m not going to lie, these last few weeks were really hard work. They were long days and heavy lifting. We had multiple setbacks, faced heavy tension from home, and quite a bit of pressure to fit in to a new place. However, the biggest setback was our tight grip. There are some things in life that we can adapt to easily, and this trip was not one of them.
I’m sure when we get home, we will tell our families how amazing our experience was. There were a lot of tears when we had to leave our new Swazi family. We experienced a body of believers that was actually structured like the church of the gospel, a people devoted to working hard for the Lord, and a people who had pure hearts. We lived under a “no gossip” policy- gossip being defined as anything that you tell someone else that they couldn’t do something about. Therefore, frustration, bitterness, and complaints were kept to ourselves.
Our experiences were great, however, when we sat around the table and discussed what really stuck, it wasn’t how big the elephants were, or how yummy our family breakfast was. What moved us was the byproduct of having open hands. We were softened, shaped, and stretched by someone who is powerful enough to do so.
There’s something in us that tells us that we are deserving. We deserve to be an individual, we deserve to work harder and faster than the next person, we deserve to like and dislike what we choose, we deserve to have pride in our accomplishments, and we deserve to protect ourselves. The problem with those things is that many times, it’s the very thing that ends up leading to failure. Let me put it this way: a tight grip doesn’t give us security or success just as much as failure isn’t measured by plans falling through. Instead, a loose grip followed by surrender renders the ability to move where God moves, and He most certainly isn’t waiting to see us fall.
I want to give a few examples, because I think that many of these things correlate to our lives in America. As I’ve said before, HIV is rampant in Swaziland. It’s taken more lives and left more orphans than almost any other area in the world. Also, about every kid we touched had some disease or sickness. We spent most of our outreaches handling needles and instruments that had the ability to infect us if we weren’t careful. Close-fisted thinking and most logic would say ‘don’t go to a place like that’ or ‘treat and retreat’, but that’s not the mission of TLC. The TLC mindset was that every patient will be treated, and every patient will be treated with the utmost respect.
Despite age, gender, wealth, or status, each person knew they would be treated and given love. As much as we want to say that we would be able to jump into something like that, when the situation gets personal, you realize how tight your fists are clenched. Your reaction isn’t going to be ‘oh well, it can be treated’, but rather something like ‘how disgusting, I’m going to get a disease’ or my favorite and most used, ‘I’m giving up so much and making such a big sacrifice, hopefully God finds favor on me’. Pretty soon everyone who comes through the door is a number, warm greetings disappear, and we only focus on time efficiency.
Another example is the way TLC moves as a team. Mornings begin with a prayer circle that includes every member of the kitchen staff, warehouse crew, nurse, and physician. Every member wears a red shirt- a symbol of unity among the staff. There is none greater than another; each job is just as important as another. It’s a humbling experience to see when you stand back at the end of a long day turning a school into a hospital, and every member was just as crucial to the process.
Our grip is SO INCREDIBLY tight. American independence had led to incredible success in many ways, but has also led to dependence more on ourselves and way less on God. When you get put in an uncomfortable position, as I said in my first blog, you begin to hear God yell “eyes on me”. When we finally turn our eyes, something else begins to transpire- you let go of your grip and cling to Him. And when you cling to Him, you begin to see Him move.
When we looked back at the things we clung to and finally let go of, we were left in awe. God has this habit of taking our clenched fists, opening them, and filling them with more than we could have ever asked for. He takes the things we clung to, refines them, and blesses us in bigger ways than we could’ve dreamed. Oddly enough, this is all old news. That’s what we’re told over and over again in scripture, and that’s what we’re shown through Jesus. Swaziland didn’t just teach us to open our fists, but to raise our empty hands in humble expectation that the Lord will move, and that He will provide. We learned to live in the joy of fellowship, of true unity, of true humility, and we reaped the blessings.
To the parents, grandparents, family relatives and friends: don’t ask how many elephants we saw, ask us what God filled our hands with. Don’t ask how poor the people were, ask how our perspective of God’s image-bearers changed. Don’t ask how strict TLC was, ask about the body of unified believers we lived with for a month. Don’t tell us how big our sacrifice was, but let us tell you how willing we became to live uncomfortably so that we could live in the comfort of knowing or Lord. Maybe, just maybe, even you can begin to feel your fists relax.