Yesterday I was driving on the bumpy roads deep in the heartland of Mexico surrounded by smells, colors, and people that were completely foreign to me a week earlier. This morning I am sitting in my favorite Pittsburgh coffee shop and it is hard to believe. I am slowly readjusting to the radical change and trying to take time to decompress from so many emotions, thoughts, and cultural realities. So much has happened over the last ten days. I feel a bit like the characters in C.S. Lewis’s children series, “The Chronicle of Narnia” when they walk back through the wardrobe after visiting a foreign land. They each have experienced a world that is radically different from anything they have ever known. They have eaten food that was foreign to them, they have talked to strangers they did not know existed, and they walk in a land that was both far more dangerous and beautiful than anything they had previously imagined. Yet, as they leave this land and walk through the wardrobe, they enter back into the world they left far behind, and nothing has changed. Even so, they will never be the same, because what they have experienced has changed them.
Perhaps, this is the best way I can articulate my experience over the past week. I have befriended many people whom I did not know existed. I have eaten the ripe fruit from the land of Mexico and I have experience a land that was completely foreign to me. More than all of that, I have been the victim of the Chiapas people’s love towards me. Through food, conversation, and sacrificial hospitality I have been pierced deeply by their love. It is as if they really believe the words of the author of Hebrews who writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2) I am far from being an angel, but their hospitality was worthy of such guests. Every place we visited they had a feast prepared and it was their best. They served us first and what was left over was their portion. They gave us the best and ate the leftovers. The family I stayed with for a few days rearranged the entire house, in order that I could sleep in the best room. They fed me their best food and adopted me as one of their own. This was my common experience in Chiapas. I was a victim of their love and their wounds will not heal quickly, or least I pray that I will feel them for many years to come.
My eyes have seen the beauty of the mountain ranges and the splendor that is rooted in the lives of the ingenious people there. Smiles that shine and eyes that display a depth that is difficult to put into words. Eyes that tell a story of pain, eyes that have a depth shaped by many weathered storms and a firmness within them that declares we expect more to come. People that do not place their security in bank accounts or insurance firms, but live off the land and trust that God will provide for the needs. I learned that my brothers and sisters have been persecuted for their faith and they live daily in the tension between the heavens and hells that exists in this world.
At one point in our trip we had the opportunity to visit a drug and alcohol rehab center. This was a powerful experience. These men (and two women) lived in conditions that were desperate. The spent time with these men and women has given a clear picture of my own desperation for God’s mercy. They live in conditions that we would be considered unfit for our pets, and they ate from the grasping fingers from the trash who reluctantly handed a few scraps. Yet, they choose this path because they have come to realize that their addiction leads to nothing less then death. They daily wrestle with demons in conditions that break my heart, but it is better to wrestle than to give in to death. Despite all this brokenness, our time together has reminded me of the power of God’s love, the power of the cross. That God became man and entered into the condition that these men walk in daily, in order that they might walk out of death and into light. Like the path Jesus walked, this path is tremendously difficult and painful, and it will cost them everything, but this is where life is found.
Those men and women know they need life, they know they need the grace of God to live. They understand that redemption is a necessity not an option. As I reenter into the society that has raised me. I wonder if we understand our condition? Do we understand how much God loves us and what it has cost him to give us life: or are we deceived and settle for so much less? I do not know if I always understand the love of God. No, I know I do not always understand this or better said, I know I do not always believe this. I am not only scared to be the man that God calls me to be: a man of integrity, holiness, and one who loves God and his neighbor with his whole heart, mind, and soul. I am scared to believe how much God truly loves me. Like Adam in the garden, I stand before God in my complete nakedness as all my deeds of wickedness are exposed before a Holy God, and my shame is too much to bear. Yet, instead of receiving the due shame and death of my sin, I hear the Lord say, “You have no idea what this going to cost us, you have no idea how dark evil truly is and what you have chosen. You have no idea how much pain your rejection of my love has hurt us, but I love you still and I am willing to pay the price in order to have you back.” This Love is terrifying. It terrifies me because it seems too good to be true and it demands me to give what I receive to others. There is no hoarding this love and it is dangerous, it is scary. To love with the same love of God tears down all my walls of defense and leaves me completely vulnerable. It leaves me naked before others and being abused and rejected is inevitable. I constantly hear the accusations that to love with such love is a set up for unbearable pain. That this type of love will be rejected or stolen from me through death, rejection, or manipulation, but in Jesus, I see and hear God saying, it is worth it and my love cannot be broken.
As I step out of the wardrobe back into this familiar world of family, friends, and the city of Pittsburgh. I pray that the wounds of love that I received on this journey will propel me to receive the love that God has offered me in his own deep wounds, for the journey of my life. I pray that I would no longer listen to the many voices that have come to kill, steal, and destroy, but I would listen to the One who leads to abundant life. I pray for the grace that I desperately need to become vulnerable in order to receive the Love that is stronger than anything.
By Joshua Fisher, M.Div Student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
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