During the month of March my wife and I led a mission team down to southern Brazil to serve at a ministry called Chain of Love. For two-and-a-half weeks we immersed ourselves in this community that provides, loving, secure, and caring homes for abandoned and abused street children in Brazil. If ever I encountered a “visual aid” for God’s kingdom work in the world today, it was there. Chain of Love and the 100+ kids and staff became my teacher in so many ways. A central lesson that has been lingering with me is the importance in God’s economy of simply being with people. The first day we arrived at Chain of Love Chris Kidd, a NAB missionary and administrator at Chain of Love briefed us on our 2 weeks. His initial words that night centered upon the importance of developing relationships with the children by spending time with the kids. He warned that this might be a bit harder than we might think for us task-oriented North Americans.Sure enough I struggled over those first five or six days with the pace of our days. And the question that was plaguing me personally as we served was: “Was I doing enough? We have come these thousands of miles… are we as a team accomplishing enough?” Chris’s invitation to simply spend time with the kids was proving more difficult than I had imagined. In reality, it took nearly a week of playing with the kids and serving wherever we were needed around the homes in order for me to readily embrace the rhythm and pace of the Chain of Love culture. And amidst this culture I began to hear the Spirit’s words: Rob, let go of your constant need to “get things done” and fix things and solve problems and feel “useful.” Spend time with the kids, develop relationships with them, love them.Since I have returned home from the Chain of Love homes this lesson continues to stir in my heart. I have begun to wonder how much of my busy-ness and pace is really about serving God and others; or does it stem more from a need, perhaps even an addiction, to feeling useful and accomplishing things. I have returned to Henri Nouwen’s reflections on leaving Harvard and going to Daybreak, the L’Arche community in Toronto. He writes,
This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self—the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things—and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments. I am telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message we have to carry as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.
Nouwen’s invitation to “be irrelevant” is one of the more difficult and misunderstood sections in his wonderful book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. But my experience in Brazil has begun to shed some new insight on this invitation “to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” Sure their will always be tasks to accomplish and competencies to be developed, but we (North American task-oriented folks in particular) must not let these things define us and thereby overshadow the priority and power in God’s Kingdom work of simply being withpeople. Undoubtedly the Spirit has much more learning and unlearning in store for me along these same lines, but for now I find myself grateful for the gift of struggle during those weeks at Chain of Love.