Category Archives: Missions

The Harmful Reach of Christians: A Critique of Cross-Cultural Missions

missionsBy: Michael Simmelink

You know what’s right in the world? Young adults are understanding the words of Jesus to “go and make disciples” to mean spending their time and resources helping those less fortunate. You know what’s wrong in the world? As Paul Borthwick says in his book Western Christians in Global Missions, “although globally aware, these young people seem unclear on what the gospel is beyond just ‘doing good.’”

Mission work has become synonymous with good deeds, and that is the heart of the current crisis in missiology. A good deed can be defined as a usually spur-of-the-moment act that is not expected to be replicated or establish any sort of long-term partnership. It is simple examples like holding the elevator for a guy with his hands full or lending change to the woman who is a little short at the cash register. They say “thanks,” you say “you’re welcome,” and you can walk away feeling good about what you just did. Missions is not that. Real mission work, and what Jesus was really talking about when He said “go,” is a long-term commitment to preaching the gospel while serving other children of God. It’s not quick; it’s not easy. The trouble begins when short-term projects try to mix the positive vibes of good deeds with ministry. And boy, are these projects popular. In 2005, Princeton released a survey that found 1.6 million Americans participated in mission trips that were less than two weeks long at a cost of $2.4 billion. The trend suggested those numbers will grow every year. Americans see that the world is hurting and want to help, but only in short bursts and with immediate results. They see poor people in Harlem, Guatemala, Libya, Houston, Russia, and China, so they get 15 people from their church to go to those places and try to help.

The problem is those people usually don’t need relief. Roger Sandberg, who was Haiti’s country director for Medair, (think less-prominent UNICEF or Red Cross), said that aid should be divided into the stages of relief, rehabilitation, and development. Relief is only given for a few short months, and usually only after a crisis when basic needs have to be met. Rehabilitation is the process of turning aid-provision over into the hands of the community. Development is what most long-term missions are interested in, and that means creating self-sustaining outposts where missionaries hopefully work themselves out of the job. Western Christians want to help so badly that they end up doing things for the people they are helping, even when the people could be doing it for themselves. As Robert Lupton, who has served in the inner-city of Atlanta for 40 years, puts it in his book, Toxic Charity, “Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” Jesus told his disciples that they would fish for men. That “for” does not mean that we stick the poles in the water for people as if they are incapable. Maybe we should hear the warning of another fishing metaphor that says, “Fish for a man, and he will have food for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will have food for a lifetime.”

Ah yes, what a problem it is fishing with (hu)man(ity). “Those people” are seen as the global masses who are without the materialism of American culture, but also without easy access to clean water or the Bible in their native tongue. Good things on one hand and bad things on the other. We look at cross-cultural people and recognize they have things of value, but also acknowledge they lack other resources. Americans focus too much energy on what is lacking. The intelligent and affluent Christians come into the backwards and downtrodden places of the world with grand ideas of reform and change. These projects hardly ever take into account what the community itself feels that it needs. Lupton tells horror stories about churches built in villages of Ecuador and never used because the congregations worshiped outside, or packages sent to Africa containing medication for diseases that did not affect native Africans. Think of the money that was wasted on these gifts by short-termers. It could have gone to roofing the thatch houses or water purifying tablets; if only the teams had been patient enough to ask the people what they need. Is it not logical that we know our own strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else? It sounds so simple, but sometimes we only look at what the needs of a person are, and don’t bother to ask them what they can offer. Carrying out God’s mission is not about bringing our plans to the corners of the world; it requires defining the assets of a person and partnering with them so their gifts may be tapped. Once they are empowered, it is expected that the assets of a person can provide self-sustaining means.

So what does this mean for people (like myself) who are planning for upcoming short-term projects? What about the professionals who cannot commit to life-long missions like the saints of yesteryear or courageous souls of today? What about all the positives that come from being involved in these trips? I make the argument that most of the positives (appreciation of new culture, relationships, feelings of accomplishment, new perspective on life, etc.) will not be compromised by the changes I propose.

First, short-termers should only be doing projects that are in partnership with long-termers. A long-termer is someone who has made at least a two-year commitment to be in the thick of a situation. True missionaries are in it for the long haul, and it is both arrogant and ignorant not trust them and use their connections. God has ordained them with a task and we should respect that. Second, mission teams need to recognize the type of aid they are giving and if it is appropriate for the setting. Is there a time to hand out food and clothing without any questions being asked? Yes, but that is four days after a hurricane has hit the city (relief), not four years (development). If working with long-termers, it’s a safe bet that development is the stage of aid. Third, the community that is being served must be included in the plans. This can be scary for people who have policies, agendas, and improvements they want to make in an area. It requires a certain kind of Godly humility to ask a group of people for suggestions because it gives them governance, ownership, and control.  As Ron Blue, a professor in world missions and intercultural studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, said, “It appears to me that those of us in the North America empire are rather slow to yield control to others.” That loss of control is essential to effective mission work.

We should not be discouraged from taking these life-changing trips, but encouraged to do them smarter. I sincerely think a cross-cultural project of any kind is essential to gaining a wider perspective on the world, and my personal experience has seen dramatic shifts in how I view poverty. However, it is time that Christians no longer hang their hats on their intentions; it is time to look hard at the results and decide if we are tangibly making a difference in the world. Let us be the hands and feet of Christ to do that, but let us also do it correctly, efficiently, and lovingly to bring the Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.


Tagged ,

How One Small Act of Kindness Sent Millions of Shoes Around the World

By: Tyler Lehmann

Mrs. Bush had no idea she had just saved a life.

She didn’t know it was supposed to be the last day Wayne Elsey came to school. All she saw was a student who needed a little cheering up.

“Wayne, I know life takes its toll,” Mrs. Bush said as she pulled the eleventh-grader aside, “but I see something in you that tells me that you’re going to be a huge blessing to many people someday. So remember that, OK?”

Because of Mrs. Bush, Elsey decided not to end his life after all, and he returned to school the next day. He graduated the following year and began selling shoes for his uncle.

Elsey’s problems weren’t over though. He did well at the job, but working with family was harder than it seemed. It wasn’t long before Elsey’s uncle fired him.

But as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. Elsey began working for a children’s footwear company, soon becoming its youngest vice president ever.

For the next 20 years, Elsey enjoyed a very successful career in the footwear industry. He retired at age 40.

However, even with Elsey’s incredible success, Mrs. Bush’s vision had yet to be realized.

In 2004, while following TV news coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Elsey watched a single shoe wash up onshore.

Moved by the image, Elsey contacted footwear industry leaders and collected over 250,000 pairs of new shoes to donate to those affected by the disaster. The next year when Hurricane Katrina struck, he collected nearly one million pairs.

Impacted by the experiences, Elsey came out of retirement and founded the nonprofit charity Soles4Souls, which has responded with crisis relief aid to more than 40 natural disasters worldwide and distributed more than 17 million pairs of shoes across 127 countries.

In 2010, Elsey was named the Philanthropist of the Year at the Footwear Achievement Awards for his charity work with Soles4Souls.

To honor the charity’s accomplishments, Elsey hosted a celebration with many business and government dignitaries in attendance. The guest of honor, however, was none other than Mrs. Bush, the woman who had made it all possible with one simple act of kindness.

The story of Wayne Elsey and Mrs. Bush testifies that there are no lost causes in God’s eyes, and what’s more, he may use even a small gesture to make a massive impact.

Read more about Elsey’s experiences in his book Almost Isn’t Good Enough.

A homeless woman and a Pita Pit

By: Tom Westerholm

I was walking down the streets of Orlando today when a woman stopped me and asked for some money for food. She was disheveled and dirty, with a cardboard sign hanging around her neck that said “Homeless. Please help.”

I was in a bit of a hurry. I needed to get back to my hotel room and work on an article that needed writing. I needed to Tweet about the game I had just watched. I needed to text my sister and call my mom. In short, I needed to do all of the technological things that make up my life as it is.

So I stopped on the sidewalk and pulled out my wallet.

“All I’ve got is a dollar, I think,” I said, apologetically. And indeed, that was all the cash I had on me. Just a one dollar bill.

“Thank you very much,” she said, as I handed it to her. “I’m just trying to get a meal quick. I’m hungry.”

“Absolutely,” I replied. “Good luck.”

I walked away, but I didn’t feel how you are supposed to feel after giving someone money. I felt like I had held back more than I should have.

Then I realized what I wish I had done. I wish I had taken the woman to the Pita Pit, half a block from where she was standing. I could have bought her a pita. Heck, I could have given her the pita that was in my hand at that moment, gone back and bought myself a second one. I could have sat down with her and we could have eaten our pitas together. I could have asked her about her life story, which would have made these 400ish words considerably more interesting.

But by the time all of these thoughts rushed through my head, I was all the way down the block. I stopped for a minute and debated going back, but a pretty girl was bearing down on me and I would have felt creepy turning around and walking behind her. I swallowed my conscience and continued.

I don’t tell you this story because I think I’m a terrible person, nor am I trying to guilt you into giving every single thing you have to the poor. Indeed, I’m typing this on my nice laptop with my nice Android phone sitting next to me. I like my laptop. I like my phone. I’m keeping them because I need them. This isn’t a guilt trip. It’s just an admission.

I just really wish I had bought the woman a pita.

Poverty Pornography

By: Kate Wallin

Remember the commercials for that one hunger fund? You know the one I’m talking about. The one with the grandfatherly figure, walking around a slum in (insert third world country here), stepping over trash, picking up small children, asking you to spare a dollar a day to help. Did you do it? Did you donate?

Or did you slink back into your sofa, your nine-year-old consciousness disrupted but unsure of how to respond, like me? Living and working with development workers for eight of the last twelve months, first in southeastern Africa and then in Eastern Europe, I reflected back on this first encounter with children in hunger trying to correct my vision and fight my nearsightedness.

In Malawi, the faces of kids, the yellow jerry cans, the dusty roads and thatched roofed homes all struck me with a certain newness and intrigue. Yet they felt so very familiar. Social-cause branding and advertisements had prepared me for these sights. I knew what I’d see but I didn’t know what I’d experience when I came shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand with the hungry, the hurt, and the dying. I had seen the advertisements but I hadn’t entered the stories.

Chris Heurtz is a fortysomething with graying dreads and the Director for Word Made Flesh, an organization of committed contemplative activists living life with those on the margins. He writes in his book “Friendship at the Margins” that “It is tempting to capture a portion of human experience at the expense of the whole to accomplish another purpose. Hunger, exploitation or need may be part of someone’s experience, but it does not define them.”

They refer to this kind of travel voyeurism – snapshots of “needy kids or deplorable slums” – as a kind of “hunger pornography”. In my experience, it’s even more aptly described as poverty pornography. Like pornography, we experience a satisfaction at the expense of someone else. In cases of hunger and poverty, we experience a feeling of knowledge, intimacy, understanding, or kindliness while in reality only meeting our own needs.

So how to fight our cultural addiction to justice-based, poverty pornography? Here’s a few ways I’ve found:

1. Engage in conversations around the issues. Starting conversations about justice and our role is important but can become overwhelming if not grounded in the proximate and the particulars. So start talking but remember grace.

2. Support initiatives bringing the people the power. Celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart has started a movement of photographers around the world bringing voice to those in circumstances of poverty. Help Portrait uses the gifts of creative’s, business leaders and local, ordinary people to bring dignity to those who have been victimized or simply overlooked by the cultural hipness of social justice.

3. Stop buying. Start building. Invest and build friendships with those at the margins. In the end, Heurtz cites, that only a commitment to friendship with those we call neighbor will purify our actions, our stories, and our addictions.

What are your thoughts? What are ways that you have been desensitized to suffering by consumer culture?

The Mantra of Traveling: Restlessness

By: Haley Littleton

I have officially been in Amsterdam for one week (altogether it will be 4 weeks) volunteering and serving at the Shelter City Hostel right on the edge of the Red Light District. While the topic of the concept of freedom in Amsterdam will have to reserved for another lengthy post, I have learned a lot from the travelers that filter through the cafe as I cook and serve food and hang out with the guests.

There is a definite traveling bug in our world today, and the backpacking or traveling community, specifically in Europe, is a complete culture of its own. For the most part, it is a culture of traveling light, partying hard, and never staying in one place for too long. It is a life of constant shifting, little money, and overall uncertainty. Thrilling and adventurous eh?

But underneath the facade of culture experience, enrichment, freedom and adventure, restlessness grips most travelers’ basic motivations. Because when the thrill of being in a “new” place wears off, they move on with ease and little direction.

I’m a fan of traveling (hello, I’m in Amsterdam for 4 weeks!) but not to cover up a fear of settling down. Traveling is beneficial to our understanding and appreciation of the world but not when it is fueled by our fears of being rooted in a long term community. We may travel away from home but, for the sake of our spiritual souls,  we must not travel without a home.

The restlessness evidenced in the travelers I’ve come in contact with renders isolation and in many cases fruitlessness.

Restlessness is the complete antithesis to Sabbath. In restlessness, when the “newness” and thrill of a place wears off, we desire to move on to different people and different sights. But in this, we never plant our roots by a stream from which we can drink from for growth (Psalm 1). Through the onset of international traveling and globalization, it is much simpler to “go” and never “be.” It is much easier to “roam” than it is to “rest.”

Sabbath involves settling into a place and being a part of the community. It involves creating a home to grow, multiply, and interact. Sabbath means to rest in the place we are at and the people around us, even when it becomes messy. Sabbath, or resting in one place, requires vulnerability and selflessness to take an interest in the things around us. Restlessness, on the other hand, creates an alone mentality that simply takes us wherever the wind blows.

And with this restlessness, we are never quite satisfied with where we are or even where we’re going. We always need more to stimulate us. Even, God, in our minds, becomes not enough when perhaps we asks us to live “boring” lives rooted in one place.

So I urge you to travel. See the world! It’s a very interesting place. But I caution you against the traveler mentality of restlessness. Go where you’ve always wanted to go but do not forget about making a home.

Because God-focused homes bring Sabbath for our weary restless souls that have roamed for satisfaction for far too long.

Twenty Seconds of Courage

By: Kate Wallin

I have seen the Windex commercial in real life repeat itself three times. You know, the one where the birds – on perches high above – sit marveling at the clean streak-free shine, until one bird attempts to fly into the living room but ends up smashing his fowl feathered pride. Now instead of charcoal-colored crows, imagine squirrely, somewhat stinky middle school boys crashing face first into the clear pane between our church’s open, glass double-doors. Three times over. Literally flying into the glass with their horizontal face plant. A loud THUD! echos down the hall, while a few spit stains are all that remain of their blunders.

The reason I get a front row seat to this spectacle every week is because I’m working for a youth organization hosting service trips for middle school and high school students. We sleep on the cement floor of a Methodist church, eat more hot dogs in a week than is healthy, and hear too many Hunger Games quotes with the hope that youth will return to their own communities with hearts for service. And I thought I came here for them. To serve them. To love them. To teach them. But I’m realizing it’s they who have something to teach me.

Middle schoolers get a bad rap. But as my new thirteen-year-old friend Joey put it, “We aren’t old but we’re not afraid.” I think the thirteen-year-olds of the world know something we adults have forgotten: courage. Growing up takes a heavy dose of courage. Surviving the days of public showers, Algebra, and identity crises takes an extraordinary amount of guts.

Growing up takes a heavy dose of courage. Surviving the days of
public showers and Algebra and identity crises takes an extraordinary amount of guts.

I watched “We Bought a Zoo” on DVD a few weeks back and while I was hesitant about Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in a children’s movie, I decided to suspend my
disbelief. And I am so glad I did. Damon’s character and his middle school son, after a rocky relationship for most of the movie, have a heart to heart about girl problems. The cliché stops there as Damon says to his son, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.” It struck something deep inside me.

20 seconds? It takes more than 20 seconds to do almost anything else. And that got me thinking: what could I spare 20 seconds of courage for?

What if that “hello” was the start to an incredible friendship? What if you sat next to him when he was alone and it saved him from another dark thought of giving up? What if you paid her a compliment and she stopped selling her body so cheaply and started valuing her soul? What if that date became your spouse? Or that stranger became your family? What if that conversation with that homeless man became the story that renewed your passions, or that class became the remedy to your quarter-life crisis or that trip opened your eyes to a new world that needed your specific set of talents and gifts?

I see my middle school students take a step closer to courage every day. They mess up, they run into glass walls, they leave spit-smears. But they don’t give up. They’re young, under-qualified, and inexperienced, but they don’t let it stop them. And they make me think about what I’m going to do with my 20 seconds of insane, embarrassing bravery.

So do it. Say hello. Sit down and ask his story. Pay them the compliment. Ask her out. Find out their name; tell them yours. Sign up for that class. Take the trip. Whatever it is, do it with insane courage. Here’s to 20 small seconds that lead to big and brave things.

Why You Can’t Be a World Citizen

Entering college, I had grand visions of all the things I would become. More artistic, more educated, more theological. Topping the list: more traveled. College wasn’t just a ticket to stability and a future profession; college was a ticket to adventure and the big world outside of the Midwestern plains.

And then I did it. I lived eight months abroad: three in southern Africa, five in Eastern Europe. It wasn’t all the 24/7 adventure I had planned. I had to do laundry, buy groceries, and use my legs as my main source of transportation. It was hard and exhausting and my heart was torn and worn in ways I couldn’t express, let alone translate.

All of my preconceptions about being a bona fide world citizen flew out the window the first time I cried over burnt macaroni, knowing it would take me several attempts in a broken, foreign language and a lot of heart-strength to buy more.

Accept place

Terribly idealistic and clichéd, I embarked on my jaunts abroad with a heart ready to love everything I met in the big, wide world. And I discovered I couldn’t. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t love people all over the world, all at the same time. You can’t be a world citizen because love is proximate. I learned to accept that love is relational, intentional and repeated. And love requires an acceptance of place.

Love those in front of you

During one such experience overseas, I got an email from a friend who told me to “stop trying to love everyone and love those in front of you.” Direct, pointed, even a little harsh, but point taken. I can’t be a world citizen because I can’t be everything to everyone. And neither can you. We’re meant to be individuals with identities, connected to specifics. Specific people, specific places. And identity is rooted to the present, the proximate, the place you find yourself in.

The myth of the world citizen is magical and fantastical but like all fantasies, it’s only illusion. In the same way, the “Think Global, Act Local” catchphrase phenomenon is too easy. We have to be people connected to place if we are to be people connected to other people. In the end, maybe its like my mom says, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.”

Wearing White

By: Tom Westerholm

Editor’s note: I spent spring break in Texas doing prison ministry with other students from my school. Thus, this story.

“You can’t wear white,” we were told. “White is the color of the inmates’ jumpsuits. If a riot breaks out, the guards won’t be able to distinguish you from the prisoners when tear gas is thrown. Don’t wear white.”

We didn’t wear white.

We must have made a strange sight. Six uncomfortable Iowa boys, born and raised in Christian homes, wearing our collared shirts and clutching our Bibles, standing outside a famous Texas prison. Overweight guards waddled past, and I felt as though I could hear their thoughts in my head as they glanced at us.

“You better watch yo’self in there, marshmella.”

Each member of our group had been asked to share our testimonies, and we had been encouraged to talk about our Christian homes.

“The prisoners love innocence,” they told us. “Your stories of following God your whole life will be an inspiration to them.”

Frankly, I thought that was a load of crap. I imagined being a prisoner, hardened by the justice system. If I saw a college student like myself coming to share the Gospel, I would despise that privileged, middle-class, sniveling little brat. What could I possibly say? What part of my upbringing could speak to the hardest members of society?

I don’t think I was the only member of our group feeling this way. Everybody was shifting nervously back and forth, huddled closer together against the uncharacteristically chilly March air as we waited outside the prison gates. Then they opened and an older gentleman walked out. He introduced himself as the assistant warden, and looked at us apologetically.

“We are going to have to cancel tonight,” he said.

He explained, not unkindly, that there had been an emergency transport of prisoners, and that there weren’t enough guards to cover the chapel service. State law required him to cancel.

An odd combination of relief and disappointment washed over me. Though five minutes before I had been desperately wishing someone would come out and deliver exactly that message, I found I had grown attached to the idea of entering a prison for my first time. We prayed on the spot, and our leader herded us into a van and drove us back toward the parking lot entrance.

Then we were called back.

“Your God has a sense of humor,” the Warden said, smiling. “The transport got cancelled. The service is back on.”

The nerves returned full force, but I swallowed hard and we entered the prison. We walked through multiple security entrances and made our way through a prison-yard until we came to a gymnasium. The prisoners were hastily setting up the service that they had already torn down, having been told that it wasn’t happening. But as we entered, many of them came over to us, thanking us for being there, wishing God’s blessings upon us, and wringing our hands.

Those handshakes: bone-crushing, coming in rapid succession. Strong hands gripped ours, shook ours, annihilated ours.

The owners of the hands were an eclectic racial group. Black, white, Latino, Asian, indistinguishable…all were represented.

There were two black men, both bespectacled, who greeted us with enthusiasm, hugged us and said “God bless you, brother.”

There were several bald white men, swastikas and lightening bolts tattooed in prominent places, whose eyes filled with tears standing next to their black brothers singing praise songs.

There was an older man, slightly overweight, who shredded his guitar as he played.

There were many Latino men who couldn’t sing the English verses, but roared the words enthusiastically as the verses switched to Spanish.

There were chants of “whose house?” “GOD’S HOUSE!” taken up by random men throughout the audience.

There was an enormous man with a scarred face and a twisted ear who sang every word with his eyes closed, and who hung onto every spoken word with rapt attention.

There was Roberto, a tattooed Latino man who stood stoically with a single tear running down his face when we asked if anyone wanted to give their life to Christ.

There were several faceless men who shouted encouragement at us as we spoke. “Come on now!” and “Say it!” and “Amen, hallelujah!” rang out as we spoke, and as they shouted, all of our nerves melted away.

I gave my speech. It was fine, nothing earth-shattering. But as I looked out at a sea of faces, I couldn’t help but think that I was looking at a group of men who had done unspeakable things. Murderers, rapists, thieves, gang members, drug dealers…all were represented. Yet in the same way, none were represented. All of the trash these men had brought with them had been washed away.

But even more striking were the ways in which these men were broken like me. Unlike so many churches, not a single man in the building would judge me for my cursing or my anger or my lust. Every single man had been through that and more and now sang “HALLELUJAH, grace like rain!” with their eyes closed, their hands outstretched, and their faces pointed toward Heaven.

As the service closed, we were quickly escorted out of the gymnasium, and our battered hands were wrung several times on the way out the door. I wish I could have stopped and talked to them all. The man with the scar and the twisted ear. The men with the racist tattoos. The men who could only speak Spanish. I hope someday we can worship together again.

Someday when we will ALL be wearing white.

Mistaken for Strangers

By: Kate Wallin

In the Judeo-Christian tradition there is a beautiful story about this ancient garden. And while people have argued about the “literal” or “metaphorical” existence of this garden for ages, as a kid all I needed to know was one thing: it was beautiful. I imagined Eden to be a cross between Brendan Frasier’s Amazonia outback in George of the Jungle and the wet forests of the Oregon coast. We’d run the lengths and widths of our neighborhood – our own imaginary garden – claiming every inch as only kids in their summer skins can. There was a safety in the way the light filtered through the trees and a security in the warmth of its possibility.

In more recent yesteryears, as I grew, the city opened up to me with the same imagination and invitation as those first years outdoors.  A concrete jungle, messes of office branches and people with every color of summer skin. People who shared their stories and smiles with me, remembering my name and delivering it with a force that makes you feel like somebody special.

A month ago I shared a bus stop with such a somebody. Greg is a native Texan but likes the Midwest better. He turns forty next month and bounces around from couch to couch when he’s not on the streets. His breath smells faintly of French fries and strong marijuana. And he’d lost his truck. My friend Jacob spotted him a dollar for bus fare as he continued with stories of the South. The conversation eventually settled into a comfortable rhythm of questions and answers; Greg was interested in what we thought was out there. If I thought people could change. Two bus stops and a train ride later, amongst giggles, Greg shyly admitted, “I don’t really have a truck, I just wanted to hang wit’ you guys.” Surprised, I asked why. “You remembered my name.”

As I read the Scriptures, I’m intrigued by this reoccurrence of name. I heard a pastor once say the Israelites inherently connected name to identity; so in Genesis, the creation story is really this beautiful metaphor of affirmation. God grows a beautiful garden. He creates for Man an equal. And, when Man says “Woman”, he recognizes she is something lovely and different from himself. There’s power in a name.

Fast forward to today. We feel in the depths of our bones that things aren’t as they should be.  I think the author, Shane Claiborne, is on to something when he says: it’s not that we don’t love our neighbors, but that we don’t know our neighbors. If that’s true, maybe the problem isn’t homelessness but my understanding of hospitality? Maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t love my neighbor but that I don’t know the name of my neighbor. Maybe the problem – the reason our bones ache as they do – is that we have mistaken our brothers and sisters for strangers.

The Kid Who Drove Me Nuts and How I Learned to Love Him Anyway

by Tyler Lehmann

Love others even when you're not a happy camper.

Nothing puts your patience to the test like camp counseling. In fact, I’m thoroughly convinced some campers make it their goal to drive their counselor insane by the end of the week.

The camper of mine who nearly achieved this was an 11-year-old force of nature named Marquis. After two days of pleading with him to join camp activities, corralling him during mealtime, and squelching the overall anarchy he incited in my cabin, I wanted nothing more than to ship that kid off to Timbuktu.

Marquis’ specialty was naptime. During his week at camp, naptime on any given day was enough to induce posttraumatic stress disorder. You see, Marquis had this talent for turning a typically relaxing hour of napping into a living hell. When naptime arrived each afternoon, a death knell tolled inside my head—I knew what was waiting in my cabin.

“You’re not my mom! You can’t tell me what to do!” Marquis would scream while I tried to coax him into his bed. When I did get him to lie down, I’d turn my back for a second, and he’d be back on the floor, digging his underwear out of his suitcase and launching them furiously into the air. Of course, all of this was utterly hilarious to my nine other campers.

“Just remember, Tyler—Jesus loves him, Jesus loves him, Jesus loves him,” I would repeat to myself. That became my mantra over that week whenever I started thinking about fleeing camp as a refugee.

All kidding aside, even though Marquis made my blood boil, he gave me one of my best weeks at camp. It was only because of Marquis that a Bible story we had been studying all summer long finally became real for me.

In Luke 15:11-31, Jesus tells The Parable of the Lost Son. It’s the story of a son who leaves home and squanders his father’s wealth. When the son returns home, his father welcomes him with a feast, even though he doesn’t deserve it.

One of the lessons taught by this parable is that love isn’t to be earned, it’s to be given freely. In the same way that the father loved the son despite his actions, I needed to love Marquis despite his.

That meant I had to change how I saw Marquis. I remembered something our camp director told us during training week: “There are no problem campers, only campers with problems.” The point of this motto was to teach us to define our campers not by the grief they cause us, but by the love God has for them.

So even though Marquis’ behavior didn’t change the rest of that week, the way I saw him did. He still kept me up half the night with his flashlight. He still refused to help clean up the cabin. He still disappeared conveniently just before chapel every morning. In every way possible, he was still inching me to my wits’ end. But what kept me from going over the edge was the love for him I found in God.

The kind of love that comes from God can’t be expressed halfheartedly, though. It’s a full-time commitment. Here’s what 1 Corinthians says about love:

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

1 Corinthians 13:7

Love isn’t only for when we’re happy, and it isn’t just for people we like. Love is also for the times when you and I are frustrated, and it’s even for people who drive us nuts, Marquis included.