|"Love Locks" on a bridge in the city of our first overseas assignment|
This month as we talk about the theme of love, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like to love the places that we are called as missionaries. Just as with individuals, there are so many circumstances under which we are called to love the places where we are sent, and there are seasons and phases of love too. Sometimes our first interaction is that head-over-heels sort of "just-can’t-help-falling-in-love" sort of love. I felt that on my first mission trip to East Asia. I LOVED it right away and would have been thrilled to have lived there forever, though God had other plans. Sometimes we experience the type of love that grows from an indifferent or even negative first acquaintance into a deep appreciation and true and passionate enjoyment. Sometimes it is pure sacrifice where we simply love because we know that God has called us to love the unlovable just as He does.
My love for my host country has been all over the map these past nearly 10 years. Our “relationship” was definitely not love at first sight, but my love soon grew deep and true for this place that God has me. It grew into true appreciation and enjoyment. While loving was a difficult and reluctant choice during my rocky first year here, it soon grew seemingly effortless. Even the imperfections of this place often seemed to me to be endearing.
But as of late, we’ve hit a rocky spot in our relationship. Things are strained. I don’t feel a whole lot of love from my host country and honestly sometimes I desire to withhold my own affection and would like to snap back every once in awhile. We have a lot of political strain between my home and host countries, and despite the fact that I am not one to be much into politics, the growing coldness can be felt even by me. As a result of the negativity all around, my natural affections are waning. It is hard to feel warm and fuzzy when you know what is being said about you; or maybe not said about me personally, but about Americans in general. Where I used to feel free to openly love and share my affections for the people and culture here, it almost feels foolish to show this sort of love as openly as I used to. People who know where I am from and hear me express such affections think I am strange and assume that I must either have no idea what is going on between our countries or have left my home country because I too believe that it to be horrifically wrong in its views and actions.
It has been a weird season. Though I still deeply love my host country, I feel a bit estranged from it, like it is pushing me away. I have realized again in this season what we know to be true about love: It is not a feeling, but a choice. I want to succeed at loving well in spite of not being loved in return. God has called me here to love. He has called me to love by sharing His truth, and to love in my actions and attitudes and conduct. Though in our ministry we have talked often about how the current troubles are a hindrance to ministry because of all of the mistrust that has arisen, I wonder what new doors are opened when we succeed at loving even in spite of the fact that it is plain as day that we are not loved in return.
This is the circumstances under which Jesus did His ministry. He was not loved or welcomed by thw majority of the world or the people that He came to save. We often pray that we will be able to love like Jesus, and though my fleshly self would prefer to go back to the time when love was flowery and free, perhaps this is my best opportunity yet to love like He did and does. Lord, please help me to love as you do!
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.- Ephesians 5:2 (ESV)
How about you? What sort of love are you currently experiencing between yourself and your host country? Have you experienced times of strained relationship? What helped you to keep loving during those times?