Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Tears began to stream down my face, as our hands united us around the room. Chairs, sofas, and benches lay empty like open hands encircling our group. Nathan, the service dog, lay patiently outside the circle, head resting on the floor.
The emotions of that moment flooded over me. Here we were, Joel and I, standing in unity with twenty other people we knew only by name, praying for their needs, and the needs of others. God's Spirit moved in our midst. There truly is nothing more beautiful. Unity.
When I was pregnant with our second daughter, a question loomed over me as I played with our then 2-year-old: How could I possibly love another child as much as I love this one? Experienced biological and spiritual mothers will emphatically reply that our hearts expand further and further like a balloon. We continually believe our hearts cannot hold more love and with each new addition, we joyfully stretch bigger still. The beautiful body of Christ.
I didn't realize the expanding and contracting of my soul included more people and a prolonged timeline.
As a member of the body of Christ, the church, I didn't realize the expanding and contracting of my soul included more people and a prolonged timeline. I thought the starting point was clear: acceptance of Jesus. The longer I serve as a missionary, the blurrier the lines of demarcation have become.
This blessed blurring began a few years ago when I met Chrisa. When we moved into our new home and neighborhood, we were excited to know our new neighbors. I remember awkwardly meeting Chrisa outside one day as we headed out for a walk and she was coming in with a stroller and her twin babies. My cheeks must've been flushed from gathering all we needed for my crew of three under the age of 8. In the back of my mind, I knew I only had one first impression and this was not exactly how I envisioned it. Chrisa was gracious and kind to me. Thankfully she and I planted a seed that day that would grow into a beautiful flourishing friendship.
We spent countless hours talking, listening, crying, and laughing together. Each time we got together my heart expanded and contracted, and that delicate seed grew and blossomed. I prayed for my dear friend. In the first few months of meeting her, I found out she didn't share the same faith as me. I remember feeling guilty that I wasn't spelling out the Gospel message to her from the very beginning. There was a specific day I recall a very loud obnoxious voice in my head telling me "Share it! Tell her how it is! Speak the truth to her right now!" This moment is etched in my memory because I also remember a stiller, quieter voice whisper softly to me No, listen to my voice.
My prayer life and my concern for her deepened. Chrisa has become such a special friend to me and the beginning of a catalyst in my faith. I had never had a close friendship outside of my faith. I learned that the pressure-filled approach to sharing the Gospel was not from the Lord. Yes, there are times when the Spirit nudges us to share boldly. However, this insistent voice I heard was not His. Suddenly, I realized something critical in my life as a Christian: I am not responsible for Salvation. I do not carry the burden to save. We have a Savior and the Holy Spirit calls out.
What I do carry is a deep commitment. At that point in my life, I didn't know that the burden-approach is actually easier than a deep, committed relationship to a person. Easier in the sense that we essentially can unload our burden to evangelize someone by opening our mouths and letting it spill out at our own convenience. That is easy!
I have seen this time and time again in our lives as missionaries. However, what kind of life does God want me to live? Our Lord Jesus gave us the answer quite simply but we refuse it. We smile and shake our heads knowingly.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.
At first glance, this seems like a copout as a Christian. Surely we have so much more we have to do to be a follower of Jesus. The revelation I have discovered in my walk with Jesus is just how deep, how full, and how painful it is to love.
I met Giovanna after about 6 months into our lives in Barranquilla. I absolutely love her mannerisms and expressions in Costeño(coastal Spanish in Barranquilla). Many times she would climb into my car and speak so fast that I wouldn't understand any words she was using, but through her lively intonation (or lack thereof) I could understand her mood completely. It was entertaining to learn and observe her. I knew she was also watching and observing me. We had our first deep conversation floating in the ocean while our kids were surfing. I shared with her my heart for people to know God personally. I talked about the freedom of knowing Jesus and how He set me free to know and love more like He does.
This conversation was the beginning of many others where I talked no differently than I would to someone who shared my exact beliefs. All the while, I pray for Giovanna. I pray for her family and that their greatest desire would be to know God.
Occasionally, I felt a little doubt and guilt creep in. Angel, you are a missionary. Shouldn't you be sharing the Gospel message with all of your "contacts"? And this is where my life in evangelism has changed. There really aren't any "contacts." There are people I am walking with and living life with in relationship. Following Jesus should be more action than talk.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
"Jesus did not give us a small gospel. He gave us a full-orbed gospel with vast dimensions that defy the kind of precise measurements that make us comfortable. The gospel isn't supposed to be comfortable for it points us back to the cross." -Half the Church, Carolyn Custis James
When we begin to see people as people and ask the Lord to show us how He sees them, a beautiful transformation occurs. He gives us eyes to see them. Our prayers are no longer generalized prayers for "the lost", but personal agonizing prayers of love for real people we know. This has revolutionized my prayer life. My heart aches more now than it ever has.
Following Jesus means loving people. How is it possible to love someone we don't know? And how can we know someone without dropping our pretenses, and opening ourselves up to truly see them for who they are?
"Love is a binding force, by which another is joined to me and cherished by myself." -Thomas Aquinas
What keeps us from entering into a relationship with non-believers? I would like to propose that we fear loving them. We fear this type of love because it will inevitably cause us to care, to hope, and to long for something we aren't 100% sure will end in their salvation. That would be devastating. But isn't this what God requires of us? The greatest command merges into the second. The lines are blurred. The body of Christ extends the hand and awaits hopefully for an undetermined amount of time.
This is the truth the Spirit whispers into my ear time and time again:
What if she doesn't accept me? Will you continue to love her indefinitely, with no timeline?
The call rings loud and clear. We don't determine the time, the place, the relationship, and the conditions for loving our neighbor. Our call is one of faith, hope, and unconditional love in relationship. This example we have of extravagant love will break our hearts.
The road has expanded the limits and capacity of my heart to love. All the while, Jesus pours His love out unconditionally and I revel in it. My heart becomes his heart and I step into this costly beautiful way of living and loving for Him.