Our faith is perhaps most visible and most compelling to a watching world when people are in need.
In 260 AD, amidst the height of a deadly plague that inspired a frenzied mass exodus of people from Athens, Christians became known as the people who rushed back to the infected city to care for the sick and dying who had been left behind. Dionysius, the first Bishop of Athens, noted this remarkable, unexplainable choice to run toward the dying at the cost of their very lives. He wrote, “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.”
Approximately a century later, Roman emperor Julian attempted to revive the Pagan religion. He eventually conceded defeat and later, in a letter to a friend, penned, “Whilst the Pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity . . . These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also…” As Julian breathed his dying words, he famously gasped “You have won, Galilean!”—understanding that upon his death, his empire, so compelled by the witness of the Christ-followers among them, would turn to Christianity.
It seems that from her conception, the Church shines her brightest in moments of greatest disaster. Sacrificial love is not so much a part of what we do, as it is the very essence of who we are. The Church is designed to be a group of people who image the God who held back nothing to save us, by taking seriously the call to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves. The revolutionary power of that can and will change the world—indeed, it does every day.
Over my career in missions and international development, I have seen this type of withhold-nothing-love and service modeled by global leaders who live in the midst of incredible need, and yet somehow never lose their sense of service and compassion. They are the people who consistently run towards anyone who is hurting. And they shine brightly as they do so.
While I’ve been inspired by their example globally, the past few weeks have caused me to become just as inspired by our friends in Houston and Florida. In the aftermath of devastating hurricanes, I have watched our friends model this same type of courageous compassion.
Like so many of you, Laurel and I have been impacted by scenes and stories of people who suddenly lost everything, and we are wishing we lived closer to help. But we also have seen friends who are exhibiting wild, sacrificial love. These are people like John and Cole, who run towards those in need, explaining that they’re just trying to love others with the same kind of love they’ve received. These are the local churches that are mobilizing everything they have to love and serve all people impacted. This is the Church running towards those in need. Ali Llewellyn is one of the many people responding. She sent me the picture used in this blog, along with the words, “the church is doing a spectacular job being the church.”
Our faith is also seen most powerfully in the ways we handle loss. Amid incredible heartache, I am watching friends demonstrate humbling faith in the God who provides. These are people who believe, to their core, that the most valuable thing they possess is Christ Himself, and they count everything else as loss.
I am proud to be part of a Church that understands its mission and runs toward the hurting with self-sacrificing love.
It inspires me to continue growing into the kind of love modeled by our Savior. Costly, hold-nothing-back, extravagant love. I long to be someone who doesn’t hide when people are hurting, but responds with courageous compassion and extraordinary generosity.
If you’d like to join us in responding to the hurricane damage, please consider supporting whatever local churches you are connected to – they’re loving and serving well. Our family has decided to support our friend Chris Seay and Ecclesia Church. http://ecclesiahouston.org/ If you have other suggestions, please include them in the comment section below.