Life In the Restoration Business

Did I tell you guys I’m leaving for Africa in ten days? Well technically, I’m leaving for Madagascar – the island nation off the southeast side of the continent, near Mozambique. We’re leading a team of 10 to the Africa Mercy. They’ll stay for years, I’ll be back at the end of March.

Here’s what Madagascar looks like through the lens of our amazing ship photographer Ruben Plomp.

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I know. Torture. Right? Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

As some of you know, I work for Mercy Ships an organization that runs the largest, non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Since last fall, the ship has been docked in Madagascar providing free surgeries – orthopedics, cleft palate, fistula repair and tumor removal – for people who lack access to such care. We’re in the restoration business and here’s just one of the amazing stories that came off the ship last week.

tumorCan you imagine the shame and rejection that comes with being a little boy with a huge cyst? Zakael can.

A few weeks ago, a guy named Mr. Sambany came to us with a 16 lb. tumor on his head and neck that he’d carried for almost 20 years. He walked three days to get to the ship. While our surgeons reviewed with him the dangers of removing such a large tumor, Mr. Sambany said he knew he might die, but he was already a “dead man” for the way he is treated.

Here he is post surgery.

Sambany We’re in the restoration business.

The surgeons, nurses, cooks, physical therapists, engineers, teachers who work on the ship are not just volunteers, they actually pay Mercy Ships to donate their time and skills. Most ask their communities for financial support to do it. What’s cool about that is, you can stay home and support someone working in Madagascar.  You can bring hope and healing to Mr. Sambany and Zakael from Kansas.

But when Christmas day looks like this in Madagascar, why would you stay in Kansas? If you want to help us in person. You can do that too.

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Crew in Santa hats! Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

But if you decide to volunteer on the Africa Mercy long term, ten months or more, you get to come to Texas first for training.

And that’s where you will run into me.

They call me The Meddler.

They call me The Meddler.

Because it’s hardly just people with tumors and burns and birth defects that need hope and healing. There is so much broken in all of us, and where else in your life does anybody look you in the face and say:

“Do you realize your mouth is working against you?”

“Are you aware that what you heard as a child, contradicts what Jesus says about you?”

“Don’t you know who you are as a child of God? You are beloved, redeemed, precious, alive, whole, seated with Him, hidden in Him.

As a Jesus follower, I’m staking my life on this information, and the result has been radical and interesting. Stay tuned for the next month or so, and I’ll show you what I mean.

In Haiti last July, one of my team members asked what I get out of being away from Sam so much and traveling to hot, hard, sometimes dirty places with Christians who are in one moment really holy and in another totally freaking out.

“I get to watch God change your lives,” I said. I get to be in the restoration business too.

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How to Love People Better

I have a childhood friend who has adopted 9 of her 11 children, most of whom were damaged in utero by alcohol. Many of them require a breathtaking level of care and an environmental stability that’s hard to imagine in a home with 13 people sharing bathrooms.

What happens in her Minneapolis home is a miracle, a daily reminder of the faithfulness of the God she serves. I devour her blog Urban Servant trying to figure how someone with this much responsibility not only holds it together but has time write it all down. Recently, I took a good look at the tagline on her home page:

Filled, to be poured out again…

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Yep they all do Tae Kwon Do too.

See, it’s not about her and she’ll tell you that. Nobody has this kind of stamina and personal courage. Rather, Dot understands she is a cup, designed to be filled with the love of God, then poured out on kids who, without she and her husband, would be crashing through the system. She doesn’t always know what to do but God does, and by trusting him over the years, her cup has grown in strength, character and volume.

This, my friends, is the purpose of Love Dinner. Dot’s life is an encouragement, a high-level example of what Jesus meant when he said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

If you’re struggling with the love others part of the command, like that annoying woman at church or the tailgating jerk in traffic, you might be running on empty. If you don’t know how to fill up, pick up a bible and look up a few of these scriptures on how much God loves you, because when you finally get that, deep in your bones, it’s hard not to weep and tremble at his feet.

Fill up. Pour out. Repeat.

Most of the world struggles to live like this because they don’t know God is Love (I John 4:8). Imagine if they did. What would it look like? I think this video is a fun example, plus it has a ton of practical ideas for doing love well.

Love Dinner Assignment – Just for fun, try a few of these things in the video, or next time you’re in a drive thru, pay for the person behind you. Then tell us what happens.

This is What Love Does – Oklahoma.

Before I started paying real attention to Jesus, I didn’t know Christians like Jeff Bethke existed. But this little video, performed by Bethke, a Jesus loving, scholar-poet, went up last year and now has nearly 25 million views.

Maybe there’s something to it.

I avoided Jesus for ages because I too have a problem with the Crusades and I don’t believe any US political party or denomination has a corner on Jesus. In fact, when I actually read the gospels, I snorted at the irony.

It was first-century religious and political leaders who killed Jesus, and he warned us to watch out for them. That is not my opinion, it’s in all four gospels.

I met Bethke at the Love Does Stuff conference. He’s 23. He’s never been to seminary but he’s a reader. After reading the gospel like he meant it, he read Bonhoffer, Tozier, Keller, Chan and Goff, authors who have rejected the idea of Jesus + __________.

It’s just Jesus period.

When asked by a lawyer what the greatest commands were, Jesus gave only two: Love God. Love others. And frankly, in tornado-wrecked Oklahoma today, we are actually doing a rather good job of that.

This nation, the one supposedly “gridlocked by political and religious division” is praying together in our messy melting pot ways. We are weeping for Oklahoma and pulling strangers from the rubble. That is what Jesus wants. That is what love does.

So if that’s who we are in crisis, why aren’t we that in calm? Why do we need disasters to eclipse our quotidian spitefulness?

Because we’ve bought into the same old religious/political lie that killed Jesus. We are separate, we are different, so we must be afraid.

But if Oklahoma proves anything it’s that we’re not separate. We are one, but we’ve got to pull each other out of the rubble – even people we don’t like. As Bob Goff said over the weekend,

“He (God) is going to send all sorts of people with different life orientations your way. Does that change one thing about what Jesus said?”

Love God. Love others. Period.