As missionaries in Zambia, we live behind high wall fences. These barriers are somewhat of a catch-22. They provide a sense of security, and an equal sense of being an inmate. They are both protective and prohibitive.
Personally, I have a sort of a love-hate relationship with our walled fences. I hate them because coming and going is never as easy as I want it be. And, yet, I love them because frankly, there are times when I want to escape from Africa––from the kamikaze mini-bus drivers, from the poverty that seeps through at every seam and crevice of life, and from the needs that I know I cannot meet. I also want, I suppose, to escape from myself sometimes, because I realize that I don’t always want to meet the needs here. There are times, when my own needs seem more important.
There is a part of me that is forever gazing inward, focusing on my goals, my dreams, my hopes, my desires. And yet, Africa makes it very hard to think too much about any of those things, much less ask God for them.
Can I really pray, Dear Lord, help me find personal fulfillment, and by the way, help my Zambian friends have full stomachs?
Compassion is a wearying thing and it has a way of unveiling our selfishness in an irrefutable way. Visiting the sick forces us to visit ourselves. It reminds us that no matter how loving and kind we may think ourselves to be, our greatest love and kindness is ultimately reserved for ourselves. I suppose this is what Jesus meant then when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19).
Through the prophet Isaiah, God said:
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:10-12)
I can’t help but think, after reading this passage that my desire to retreat behind our walled fences, is in some way a reflection of my own broken-walled life. By that, I mean that it is my own shortcomings, my own failures (real or perceived) that are the driving force behind the “my” mentality I sometimes struggle with. Yet, the remedy, according Isaiah, is not to hind behind walls, but to become one who repairs them. And that we accomplish, in acts of compassion and service.
Somehow, as we loose ourselves in caring for our fellow humans, we find the wholeness we so desperately seek.