There are a few moments in life one can never forget.
I’ll never forget the day my wife was rushed into the surgery room for an emergency C-section. My first son was born that day.
I’ll never forget when my wife had to go through labor to deliver our baby daughter, Jordan. We went in to the doctor’s office for a standard ultrasound, but there was no heartbeat. We came home from the hospital with a box instead of a baby.
I’ll never forget hearing the news that a dear friend of mine took her own life. I’ll never forget watching as another friend’s wife breathed her last breath in a chaotic and frenzied hospital room.
These are the moments that define us even as they reveal to us a core truth about life. The core truth is this: We are not shielded from suffering, yet even in the midst of our pain, we do not suffer alone. God is with us. God loves us.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV)
There are a few moments in life one can never forget, and one of them happened while I was on my most recent trip with Spring Arbor University to Guatemala. On Thursday, July 16th, we drove from Antigua to Panajachel, a beautiful town on the shore of Lake Atitlan. From there we took a short boat ride to Santiago Atitlan, an indigenous village on the other side of the lake. The lake really and truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!
Once we arrived at Santiago Atitlan, we walked up the street, through the busy market, to the church where a Catholic priest named Stanley Rother served in the late 60’s until he was martyred in 1981. We went into the rectory where he was shot and sat down long enough to grasp the depths of his sacrificial love for the people of that village.
It’s important to understand that Guatemala was in the middle of an armed conflict during the years that Rother lived and served in Santiago Atitlan. The early 80’s were the worst years of the war, with 200,000 killed and 50,000 disappeared. In January, 1981, Rother went back home in Oklahoma and he was strongly urged not to return to Guatemala due to the threat on his life. He did return in April of that same year, courageously and cautiously going about his work among the people to whom he was called.
My spirit was overwhelmed as I sat in that room. I was struck by his willingness to serve and love in the name and the manner of Christ. He walked and worked among the poor, doing all he could to bring them dignity and hope. For Rother, it wasn’t just about preaching the salvation message of Jesus. He was literally willing to be Jesus “with skin on,” even when it became clear that his life was in danger.
Rother stayed and prayed until the bitter end and now his legacy of love lives on. In that small room where Rother died I felt a connection to Jesus like none I’ve felt before. The words to a a hymn began to run through my mind: “I gave my life for thee, what hast thou given me?”
That question hung in the air like a thick cloud, pushing me to my knees on behalf of the people of Guatemala. I recently heard a friend named Paul say, “If you want to get involved in the work of justice, it begins on your knees.” So that’s where I found myself, and that’s where I wanted to stay.
In that singular moment, I felt as if I had more to surrender. What does it mean to give all my life to the ministry of God’s love? What have I withheld in my years of ministry “service” and who have I really been in service to all my life? Could it be that I have been serving my own interests more than the interests of others? More than the the interests of God?
I prayed in the chapel and did my best to offer God ALL of me: “Holding nothing back, God, let me be poured out in service and love. No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends. I completely surrender myself to you and invite your Spirit to overwhelm and overtake me with love – a love for others that will stop at nothing to help them break free from their chains of oppression.”
That chapel was holy ground for me. It was a “thin place” where God’s presence could be experienced in somber and holy worship. It was a place of visitation and a place of invitation.
So what’s the invitation?
I think it’s an invitation to see the beauty of God’s love radiating out from people, to truly see Christ in them. It’s an invitation to love like Jesus, to empty myself, and expect nothing in return. It’s an invitation to witness the coming of God’s Kingdom and participate in God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
I see restoration, healing and freedom happening in me, and I see it happening in others as well. As this most recent trip to Guatemala comes to a close, I offer up this prayer to God:
“Let your love be evident in me as I live and move in your Kingdom. Let your grace be my fuel as I offer it to others. Let your mercy be my model as I go about the activities of my day. In the powerful name of Jesus, I pray for a complete uniting of my will, my heart, my mind and my soul. May everything I say and do and think and feel be genuine, whole-hearted and free. In my freedom, show me how to partner with you, to walk with others, to give all I can, to never give up, to expect nothing in return, to point people to you, to give you all the glory.”
There are a few moments in life one can never forget.