Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Show me what it looks like

The door opens and lets in the wintry air.  Shy individuals walk into the large room, the struggling families, the small children, war-torn fathers, grieving mothers, young adult men and women who have known nothing but living in displacement camps, indeed many of them born there.  They troop through the doors of the clinic for their initial health screening in this country.  To them, they expect just another clinic, the lines, the long waiting, the grey strangeness, the enduring, the impersonal --the things they have come to face living as a refugee, without a familiar place, without a home, and treated too many times as a person, it seems, without a name.

I see it on their faces as they enter the reception room.  They see the tables and the molded plastic chairs.  They already look tired.  And it is only 8 in the morning.

But there is something different here.  A gentleness, a peace, some have said, a place where everyone is welcomed by name.

The room is crowded with the senses -- the colors, the smell of weary travelers, the flowing scarves, Hello Kitty t-shirts, new shoes that don't quite fit, many languages blending into a symphony, and here in this place, kindness is the main interpreter.

I have come to love Monday mornings when I volunteer at the refugee clinic.  These people from many nations around the globe have suffered so incredibly much.  They are easy to love.  I am not a medical professional like so many others here who are volunteering their time.  I only weigh these new friends and mark down their height.  And I check their eyes, using a chart taped to the wall 20 feet away from a blue line on the tiled floor.

Because of the language barriers, the many different alphabets and unfamiliar letters, we use a chart where our friends can simply point in the direction of the figure:  to the right, down, up, to the left.  No reading is necessary, no speech, just pointing... until they hesitate just a bit where the figures suddenly fade into just a grey line.

Image result for snellen eye chart

Some use large sweeping motions with their arms to point in the appropriate direction, some just subtly tilt the palms of their hands , and the shy ones, use a barely perceptible index finger pointing in the right direction.

Some refugees are familiar with the procedure, having done it before. For many, the interpreters give instructions.  And for others, well, a lot of instruction can be communicated simply by hand signals and smiles.

Yesterday, a shy little six-year-old girl from the Congo stood on the blue line.  I indicated for her to cover one eye.  And then, I pointed to the figure at the top of the chart.  It was obvious that she had no idea what this was and what to do.  I asked an interpreter to give her some instruction.  He spoke to her.  We tried again.  She did not understand. The chart meant nothing to her. The translator spoke to her again, this time a little louder. He was frustrated and ready to give up on her.

"Perhaps," I suggested, "perhaps, if she watches someone else do it, she will understand -- if someone can not just tell her, but show her what it looks like."  The interpreter motioned for her brother who was a year or two older to stand on the line with his sister beside him.

The boy had already watched his father take the eye test.  And this little boy marched right through, pointing like he was a general, directing his troops.

He finished.  And the little girl took her turn, now easily pointing her way through the chart.  She understood.  She just needed to see how it was done.  The directions were, in a sense, translated into a language she could see and understand.  It was like a light bulb had turned on in her head.  "Oh, so that is what it looks like."

And I thought about so many people around me to whom the name Jesus means nothing to them, and Christianity is just another religion, a different culture, and even something it is not.  They don't understand my worldview any more than a chart of figures that doesn't make sense or spell out words at all.  They don't understand the radical grace of God that Jesus came to reveal.  It is like a foreign language to them. 

All I have to do is stand next to them and stand with them to show what the gospel looks like, revealed in what I do, in kindness, gentleness and grace.  It comes from Christ and how He has changed me.  What love is.  Who God is.

Speak the gospel in words, with the Word, in stories, and in kindness.
But show the gospel, what the love of Jesus looks like, not just in deeds, but by loving others.

 "Show me what it looks like."

when did we see You hungry and feed You,
or thirsty and give You drink?
And when did we see You a stranger
                      and welcome you,
or naked and clothe You?
And when did we see You sick
     or in prison and visit You?"
And the King will answer them,
"Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one
of the least of these My brethren,
         you did it to Me."

                   Matthew 25. 37-40

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