“Why are you going to Africa?” I’m often asked. Some people don’t understand why Jessica and I would leave loved ones or give up promising careers in the U.S. with prestige, money and security. Why subject oneself and family to tropical diseases like schistosomiasis, typhoid, hepatitis, amoebas and malaria? Why would we raise our children in the third world? Interestingly, it has everything to do with Christmas.
Some people assume I’m going to Africa as a medical missionary because I have a heart of gold. But quite the opposite is true. In fact, I’ve seen my heart, and it isn’t pretty. Just like everyone else in this world, I struggle with pride, lies, selfishness, fear, anxiety, identity and many other dark matters of the heart. As the ancient prophet Jeremiah wrote, “the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it?” We trick ourselves if we think we are “good.” Upon deep introspection, I know Jeremiah is right – I’m sinful. Even my best intentions are marred with hidden agendas.
Then perhaps my impetus for going to Africa is to balance out all the bad in my life with good in order to please God or to be at peace with myself? Maybe it is a form of self-punishment or penance? But when it comes down to it, I know I’m incapable of saving myself, and to believe otherwise is to think much too highly of myself. I’m going to Africa because of Christmas.
Christmas is the story where people with hearts like mine find hope in the strangest of places. The King of Kings, God, looked upon us, and saw our broken hearts and lives. He saw mankind’s plight and was moved by love to intervene on our behalf. What was Spirit became flesh. Almighty God became Emmanuel, God with us, in the form of the helpless baby Jesus. Why? Why would God give up His throne for a feeding trough? Why would God expose himself to disease, pain and death? Why would He exchange His royal robes for swaddling clothes? Why would He leave paradise for a place where He would be spit upon, homeless and eventually beaten and crucified on a cross?
It was out of love – out of love for our broken, helpless souls. He came to partake of our suffering and to bear on His own back the justice our sin deserves. He came to set us free so that we might have life – life most abundant! Because of God’s love, I no longer have to despair of my black heart this Christmas. God has dealt with it. I can now truly love my neighbor. I don’t have to be motivated by easing my guilt, feeling good about myself or gaining “points” with God. I am now free to live by the love, grace and mercy God has shown me. It is by His example and empowerment that I can leave the hidden agendas and pride behind and show others God’s love.
God’s concern for the poor, widows, orphans, foreigners, disenfranchised and other social outcasts permeates the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. You don’t need to go to Africa to find these folks. They are living next to us. Jesus said that loving God and your neighbor sums up all the commandments of God. It is the Christmas story that teaches us what true love looks like. God has placed a burden on me and Jessica’s hearts to make Africans our neighbors, but you can love your neighbor right where you are if you are willing to humble yourself and receive God’s love.
John, Jessica & Elise Cropsey