We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love
Most visitors to Battambang at one time or another end up eating a meal at a restaurant in the middle of town called The White Rose. This restaurant isn’t necessarily the greatest of Khmer cuisine, its a family run business with decent food that just so happens to have had the good fortune to be listed as the top restaurant in town by Lonely Planet more than a decade ago. And even though the offering of places to eat in Battambang is vastly greater than what it once was, The White Rose is still at the top of the list of restaurants in most guidebooks today. Thus most tourists to Battambang will always drop in for a meal or two during their stay.
All the tourist traffic to this small little corner has thus had the effect of drawing the attention of numerous beggars and street children who are hoping for a small handout. The most prominent of these people though, are a group of young boys. Most of them between 11 and 14 years old who have been abandoned by their families and society. They sleep on the sidewalks, their clothes are ragged, their hair unkempt, and all of them sniff glue to alleviate the pain of constant hunger.
The other night I stopped and sat at a small pub and spoke to the owner. As we were talking, one of the boys who happened to know me, walked up to beg for money and started kissing my hand as though I was royalty. I apologized to the boy that I had nothing to give him then and there, but that we would be around the next day for the regular day program and he could come to church to eat and then he was on his way. The owner then started ranting about the boys and how they would lounge on his chairs when he wasn’t looking and would disturb customers. He wondered aloud, “Where are the NGOs that can do something about this? Not those Christian do-gooders, but the real NGOs like “Save the Children”?
Sometimes I think that maybe I should have told him off more firmly about the “Christian do-gooder” comment or I should have tried harder to delve into why he didn’t seem to like Christians, but instead I calmly told him that most large NGOs are busy in Phnom Penh where there are thousands of street kids as opposed to a few dozen and many more have written off the boys as too difficult to work with. Then I said that the program I work with picks the kids up and takes them to church to hang out with them, get to know them, and that we want to find more solutions for them, but sometimes it takes time to build a relationship, to grow trust, and get people to participate in the right solution.
He then quickly realized I was a Christian do-gooder so he wished me luck with my project, went to the back to interview a prospective employee, and our conversation was over for the evening. But the point I take from this brief set of encounters is that as Christians we are going to be frequently presented with opportunities to love others. And that when human love fails and does not reach out, we are called to put God’s love into action and to change the conversation.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is frequently read at weddings because of the reference to the word love, but in the old Greek it was agape, the love God has for us, the love of God shown through us to others, not necessarily our human love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
How many of us can honestly say we fit this profile? Always patient and kind? Never envious? Keeping no record of wrongs? As humans, our love doesn’t fit the profile. In fact, when we fail we like to remind ourselves, “We’re only human.”
As humans we fail to love our brothers and sisters. We look at numbers and try to think where our love will be most effective. We focus so hard on what our love is going to do and the painful truth is that our love is not enough. We can say how much we love every person, but we can’t physically go out and help every person. We have a limited amount of patience and in many cases we choose to give up and label things as “lost causes”. But God’s love is greater than our love.
He sent Christ to us. Christ gave up all the perfection and celebration of heaven to exist as a human in a world filled with pain. Christ died for us. And day in and day out, Christ keeps coming to us, despite the fact that we keep turning him away. His love is persistent and keeps coming. His love doesn’t look at how much of a “lost cause” we might seem to be, but His love looks at us as one of His children and that He will keep loving us no matter what.
We should be seeking God’s love daily and letting it move us to do the things He has planned for us to do. Even when they seem too difficult. Even when no one else seems to care. God is going to place before us the opportunity for others to know us and Him by the love He has put in us. His love will persevere.
When others say they are only human, we have the opportunity to change the conversation and say, “We have God’s love, we will continue on.”
So please pray, that God is going to be in all His children and creation. So that others will know us. So that they will be able to know Him and know His great love. And that we will therefore take this love to the world.