My Story of Being Changed by Encountering God’s Heart for the Vulnerable
God really does work in interesting ways. I love it. He doesn’t use cookie-cutter methods to teach us or to reach us, He meets us where we’re at. I’ve recently been meditating on this truth: God is real. Seems pretty intuitive, especially on a Christian blog, but it really is true. Because He is real, it is possible to encounter Him, like you would encounter a person on the street or a friend at the mall. Except God is much bigger than your friend at the mall, and when you encounter Him, He changes you. Always. Just ask Paul.
This is the story of my life-changing encounter with God.
I grew up in a State of Christians. Well, self-proclaimed Christians. Most people you ask in Nebraska would tell you that they are, indeed, a Christian. I believed I was too. But I don’t think I was really a Christian until the end of my first semester in college. After becoming a Christian, I, like many Nebraskan Christians, became pretty content with living out a particular form of “Christianity” that you may have also encountered. It basically goes like this: become a Christian, live a nice life, say Christian things, don’t sin, sometimes repent when you do, share some Bible verses on Facebook, try to be “authentic,” work a good job, say that “all work is God’s work and my mission field is my workplace” but still never actually share the Gospel with anyone, spend your money mostly on yourself, retire, don’t go to hell. That was me, and I was pretty content with that.
Well, content probably isn’t the right word. At least, I told myself I was content. Though, in reality, I most certainly was not. It seemed to be that while most of these things are good, there had to be more to the Christian life. Nevertheless, I went to law school thinking that I was going to be a sports lawyer (whatever that is) and would live out the American, Christian dream. But instead of interning with the athletic department like I had originally planned, I found myself instead applying for a position with International Justice Mission.
This triggered a wild course of events that I don’t have the time to recount in this article, but it culminated with me boarding a plane for Uganda less than a week after I found out this was my destination. Here I was, stepping out in obedience and going to serve God by fighting injustice in East Africa. I was excited, and I couldn’t wait to encounter God in Uganda.
One problem though, I didn’t. At least, not for a while.
My first month was difficult. I felt completely separated from God. Here I was, thinking that this would be some profound spiritual experience, and I found myself feeling isolated from God. Alone, jetlagged, and confused. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that part of the problem was that I was searching for the God who I had gotten to know in Lincoln. The God I was comfortable with. I had tasted one tiny aspect of God, and had grown content with that, not knowing that there was so much more to Him that I had never experienced and would never had experienced if I hadn’t gotten out of my comfortable little bubble. So I decided that I would actually step back and listen, and discover something about God that I had not known before. Then everything changed.
Particularly, I learned more about God's heart for the vulnerable.
You see, as I drove around Kampala and around the country of Uganda, one of the things that stuck out to me was the rampant poverty. Driving through Kampala, I passed row upon row of tiny shacks built with either bricks, or sticks and mud. These shacks donned a front opening covered by either a wooden board or a bedsheet, a roof made up of a single sheet of tin, and holes in the side that served as windows. Outside were the people who call this home, usually a mother with a baby literally tied to her back while she washed clothes or carried crops in a basket on her head, and children who were wearing a tattered t-shirt and nothing else. They struggle to survive, working their fingers to the bone just to scrape together a meal or two. They work and work and work, but they find themselves trapped in a circle of poverty that doesn't show any signs of releasing them from its deadly grip.
Honestly I wasn't sure how to respond to this. I'd heard countless well-meaning Christians come back from impoverished areas of the world say different versions of the same line.
"I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little."
This line (and various versions of it) always left a bad taste in my mouth. I used to think it was just because it was a cliché and seemed a little elitist, but now I think I understand why it never really sat well with me. Because if you come back from a mission trip and this is your major takeaway, you completely missed the point.
What I learned from my time there is that when I drove through the slums and saw a young boy wearing a tattered shirt, torn pants, and no shoes standing in the dirt outside his family's shack, I was actually looking into a mirror.
Past all the nice clothes, the comfortable house, the nice car, and all the other stuff that I have, I'm no different than that young boy standing in the dirt. While I may be materially rich, I am spiritually poor. When Christ came for me, he found me just like that young boy. Dirty, broken, tired, and trapped. The tattered clothes draping my thin frame are the torn rags that are my righteousness. I was vulnerable, and fell into many sins and habits in a desperate attempt to find something that would relieve the suffering and provide some sense of satisfaction or joy, however short-lived it may be. I was trapped from the day I was born, and it didn't matter how hard I worked or how much effort I put forth, I was going to be trapped until the day I died. I was deeply indebted to God and I possessed absolutely no ability to even begin to redeem myself. I am so sinful, so morally bankrupt, and so lost that only free grace could possibly save me.
Then my dear, sweet, mighty Jesus intervened. Not because I was special, not because I had earned his help, but because he saw my condition and loved me enough to leave his own place of comfort so that he could break the chains of oppression and set me free. He reached out his perfectly clean hand, grabbed my filthy arm, and lifted me out of the muck. He sacrificed his comfort, security, livelihood, and yes even his own life so that I would experience freedom.
What God opened my eyes to in Uganda is the poverty of my spirit, and I came to see just how dirt-poor I really am. How dirt-poor we ALL are. But it was when we were poor and vulnerable that Christ came for us. When we were out of options and facing an eternity of bonded servitude, Christ rescued us.
It is out of this new understanding of God's heart for the vulnerable and my own spiritual poverty that I've come to see injustice in a new light. God calls us all to seek justice, and to do so by caring for the poor and the vulnerable. One of the reasons we are called to care for the poor and vulnerable is because Christ cared for us when we were poor and vulnerable. When we seek justice and care for the poor and vulnerable, we are reflecting God's character, which makes us a little more like him.
Now I look around at all the poverty and brokenness, and I don't just see the suffering of others, I see my own suffering. I see me. God showed me grace, and now he calls me (as he calls every Christian) to care for those who are materially what I am spiritually. I see those around me and my heart breaks for them because God's heart breaks for them, and I am called to reach out and help those who just can't help themselves.
So, by the grace of God, He had revealed to me a new dimension of His character that I wouldn't have seen had I never left my comfort zone. I came to know a little more about him, and I came to better understand the grace he's given me in a radically new way. As a result, I find myself passionately motivated to do his work like I hadn't been before. This is now my mission: to demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus by seeking justice of behalf of the least of these, to relentlessly strive to drive back the evil in this world and restore it to God’s original design, and to preach the Gospel in such a way that others are motivated to do the same.
In the end, I am thankful for what I have, because I had so little. Let us all do unto others as Christ has done for us.