He sat in a chair two feet in front of me, head down and hands clasped together, mulling over my question. A tear rolled down his cheek to the carpet below. I repeated.
“Brian…do you know that God loves you more than you will ever understand? Look at me, Brian. He loves you no matter what.”
“Brian,” as I’ll call him here, had answered the altar call five minutes earlier and was now sitting in front of me in a side room, admitting through broken, soft whispers that he felt dumb and unloved. He hadn’t heard from his dad in a year and his mother begrudgingly allowed him to take the bus to church each Sunday. He was dreading August when he would have to repeat the 7th grade and face intense criticism and rejection.
There he sat in front of me, eyes bloodshot and glossy, barely able to look directly back at me as I could see the shame and uncertainty that heavily weighed on him. In that moment, I remembered a grown man looking back at me in the mirror not so long ago with the same soul-gripping fear attached to him.
And in that moment my heart was full…
And in that moment my heart began to shred…
Though a man once hardened and broken, my benevolent, merciful Father allowed me to speak life into Brian and love on Him as I had once longed to be loved. I felt whole again. He answered my prayers. My life had purpose.
How He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.
I found my heart in a little town called Bethany, southwest of Shreveport near the Texas border. Preferring to take a summer vacation in a much more tropical setting but unable to afford it, I thankfully was prodded by a friend into spending a week at Camp Fuego. There I would volunteer as a camp counselor with a community of people giving their time to live God’s love out loud to area middle and high school students.
I essentially went because I had nothing better to do and while I was excited about getting away, never predicted the type of impact it would have on my life.
College was full of good intentions to spend a month or two in Africa, but not a lot of effort on my part, and thus nothing ever panned out. In the years since, I’ve been so internally focused on taking care of myself it never occurred to me that perhaps the best way to find all of me was to focus every bit of unselfish love and attention I could muster on someone else for an extended amount of time.
Countless times during worship at church I’ve been unable to completely identify with the line, “Break my heart for what breaks yours…”
I went to Bethany void of any agenda or expectation. I simply decided to love, to give, and to laugh. There aren’t words to properly express the joy that I experienced humbly watching as God used his work in my life to reach those kids. Hearing their stories and praying for each one did something simply indescribable inside of me. The tenderness that resulted has left my heart broken over the love that He pours out in the midst of our sorrows.
After a long week, I was unable to enjoy my last night with my family of camp staff, completely bummed at the thought of leaving. I needed to unravel alone as I felt so much flooding inside of me. I said my goodbyes that night and left early, still fighting the tears that spilled during one last walk across the camp thinking about the lives that God had intersected with mine. It’s taken me days to even sort out how to express what I was feeling inside.
I discovered my heart for missions at Camp Fuego off a two-lane highway through a tiny town in Louisiana.
God ministered to me during those quiet three hours I spent driving home. I believe what He wanted me to know the most was that missions doesn’t require an 18-hour plane ride or even a church camp in Bethany. It begins at our doorstep with the people that surround us every day carrying many of the same hurts that God has healed in our lives.
My heart has been broken for what breaks His, and in these moments, the words ring so clear and so true: How He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.
It’s time we tell the world around us.
*Photo credit: VIUDeepBay