Me thinking to myself: “Jenn, what are three big topics you’ve thought about in 2020?”
Your kingdom come
He is making all things new
What do these sentences have in common? Well, the first and last go somewhat hand-in-hand, but are dissimilar enough they warrant separation.
I realized that not only have I thought a lot about these ideas/topics, they also have helped me answer my own question: “why should we practice and teach medicine in Burundi?”
In March 2019, a dear older friend sent me a link to listen to a message/lecture given by Eric Mclaughlin about "Medicine and the Kingdom of God." (**Let's note that I didn't know Eric at this point and had NO idea that he would end up being our team leader after deciding to move to Burundi!!) I listened and appreciated the insight Eric brought to the topic of medical missions.
During his talk, he references Mark 1:14 "...Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." What is God's kingdom? Arguably it is "all of life under the gracious rule of God." If you are in the kingdom, you are in the domain of the King.
Little did I know at the time, but these words would be so helpful as I experienced (not personally, but rather witnessed) so much suffering this past year. What a huge swing in worldview I’ve had after moving from one of the wealthiest countries in the world (in which we were extremely comfortable) to one of the poorest. Living in a country where people who are wondering where their food will come from, living off of less than a dollar a day (for those who actually have employment), and most living without running water or electricity can lead one to feel and think many different things. Initially, it was overwhelming, and to be honest, many days I still am overwhelmed by the sadness and hardships by which I am surrounded. This is baseline, let alone what people go through when they or their children are ill and in need of hospitalization. A child is born in Atlanta, GA with some sort of cyanotic (causing baby to be blue and hypoxic) congenital heart disease deadly in the first few months of life if not corrected; child receives surgery and lives an (almost) completely normal life – minus checkups, possible mild sequelae, etc.) A child is born in Kibuye with same defect – there is no one here to fix this. And there is no way the family could ever afford to travel to the capital, let alone Kenya where there is possibly someone who could fix this. I know this baby will die. Sometimes it’s worse knowing what could be if this child were born somewhere else. Suffering. Injustice. Knowing that children here suffer and die from congenital diseases/malformations that are easily treated and corrected in developed countries is a daily mental battle which all but forces me to long for the kingdom which is yet to come. I have always believed that my hope is in the Lord, but in this past year that truth has become solidified in my daily thoughts and actions. My hope rests on his faithfulness, His promises, His never-ending love, and the promise that one day Jesus will return and He will make all things new.
Where am I going with this? Honestly, I'm still working through the ability to articulate exactly what I've been processing since our arrival last January. I'll take a few points straight from Eric's talk because he has stated them in a straightforward way, and also let's not reinvent the wheel...
- Medicine is a tangible way to testify that God cares about the sick and suffering.
- By allowing God to use me and my skills to help treat those who are ill shows a little bit what life is like under God's rule.
- Disease and sickness are being taken away and when Jesus comes back again, will be banished for good.
So while we are not personally capable of bringing God's kingdom to earth, I am able to pray –
"God, your kingdom come. May I surrender to your leadership and not lose sight of whose kingdom I am working for. Forgive me for the times where I am working for my interests, my ‘kingdom’. Help me to see the injustice and pain that is happening around me as part of the ‘not-yet’ kingdom as I long for your kingdom to fully come at which point all pain and suffering and death will be wiped away. I ask that the Holy Spirit would work through me to bring your kingdom to earth until that day when Jesus returns and all is made new.”
One of the groups of friends that we've made in Burundi over the years is called The Cries of a Child. This group was founded by an American family a few hours from us, and they were among our first friends upon arriving in Burundi. Among the different roles they play is running a clinic. Among the professionals at that clinic is a French nurse named Lydie. From time to time, Lydie finds some kind of extraordinary problem and sends pictures and questions to us at Kibuye.
One such instance was last October, when she send me the following picture:
'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'
Then I said, 'Here am I! send me.'"
As I was limping through the last few kilometers (of a total of maybe 8....let's not be too impressed) I started reflecting on the words of Paul, when he echoes Jesus teaching about the body of Christ
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. I Cor 12:12
I think my whole life I have interpreted that passage as a reminder to me that all are important. That janitors are no less important than research virologist. That a young girl who stutters is no less capable of spreading God's message than a pastor full of charisma with a huge following (OK - I personally am more likely to have to be reminded that a lot of the mega-church pastors ARE capable of spreading a message of unselfish love)
And that message is there, as Paul continues:
"For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."
It shows us that we each have a role to play, that all parts are required, that some we think are less important are in fact really important.
If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts
We all have a job to do, we all do different things, and love ('the greater gift') is the thing that we should really all aim for (as Paul leads up to the next chapter, 1 Cor 13 - which has to be the most widely cited chapter on love in the whole Bible)
But as I was running, I realized something else.In the verses above- I omitted one small phrase that lands in the middle of this section, the first half of verse 26:
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it
It's not just that we should avoid thinking more highly of one part. I think my individualistic western mind has always gone to that part and ignored the communally oriented parts THAT ARE RIGHT THERE.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I no longer think "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it" is prescriptive, telling us what to do (if someone suffers, you ought to feel bad, or you should try to feel empathy).
I now see it as descriptive, telling us what does happen (if someone else suffers you WILL suffer, you DO suffer).
If all followers of Jesus are as connected as interrelated parts of a single body (and Paul just said we are...so if you have issues, I guess take them up with him) then it's not possible that one part is hurting and it doesn't eventually affect the rest.
Maybe there is a clever insight here that in the same way my back doesn't hurt until I run, the body of Christ may not feel the pain of a certain part that suffers unless it's active and doing something.
I guess the reality is if one part is suffering, it IS making the rest suffer. The question is are we attuned to that. Are we paying attention?Most days, after I run I can feel stiffness in my left hip/back/leg/knee if I'm sitting and pay attention. Or I can ignore it and push through.
Either I can realize that one part is suffering, and if I pay attention, and give it what it requires (a bit more stretching, etc) then it can return (hopefully) to its normal functioning state, and the body overall will not suffer in the same way. (but...let's be honest...I'm 46. Running on these uneven dirt paths up and down rolling hills is always going to cause some discomfort)
Maybe this means we need to sometimes just sit, be quiet, be still, and listen. Pay attention to the other parts of the body. Pay attention to those parts that may be suffering that we 'can' ignore if we want. Pay attention to our brothers and sisters who have suffered, been hurt, and continue to be neglected (by us).
If the body is to work well, it needs every part. Not just because it's a nice sentiment about community and inclusivity, but because the reality is we NEED each part to work. If some parts suffer - we need to pay attention.