“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love." -John 15:11-12 The Message (MSG)
His commandment. In most circumstances, "command" can sound ominous. But here, we are commanded to love. Love! How delightful, right? But, "love one another the way I loved you." What kind of love is this?
He loved us so much that He died for us! I put that right at the tippy top of the most selfless, gracious, merciful acts that anyone has done for me. Bar none. But, what does this look like practically?
I was born into a Christian family, active in my church/community, and was even involved in missions from a young age. My grandparents were on the refugee committee at church, which meant by proximity, my entire family was on the committee. Through them—my mom, aunts, and uncles—I truly learned what this command meant. It was never discussed; I merely saw it in action.
There was an open-door policy at our house and friends wandered in/out with ease. It also meant that if someone needed a place to stay or food to eat, I was accustomed to my mom inviting strangers over. It might be a church visitor or perhaps a relative called from another state asking if we could host someone passing through. We even had a homeless woman and her smelly, matted, mangy dog live with us for awhile (I still remember trying to give that dog a bath. Oh my!) It didn't matter who you were or even if our own finances were nearing depletion, if you needed a place to lay your weary head or fill your empty belly, you were more than welcome!
Fast-forward to March 2016 and allow me to paint a picture of an individual who was called to serve in Nakuru, Kenya. This during a time in her life when she didn't think she had the capacity to serve, much less find room in her heart to love another person. Surprise! That person was me. I was broken. God called me nonetheless. In fact, I believe this is where God can do his greatest work. God is looking for a people who have become nothing so that He can become everything! Thus, with tears in my eyes and sorrow in my heart, I boarded that 747 and traveled 8,915 miles to a place I never knew I wanted, or needed, to go. At Mountain Park Academy (MPA), I re-learned how to love. Not just any love, but the way Jesus commanded. The way I had seen demonstrated in my youth. But, my newest instructors? The children of Kenya.
Selflessness. Lovingkindness. Exuberance. Joyfulness. All of these "fruits" and more are always in peak season when you arrive at MPA. I'm talking about kiddos who are walking to school or playing football (soccer) in worn flip-flops, wearing tattered clothing (clothes that wouldn't even qualify for the donation pile), and whose little bellies are likely grumbling because they did not get enough to eat the night prior. Students who might take notes on yesterday's newspaper and who use every pencil down to the nub. Yet, each time I'm at MPA, I'm astounded at just how selfless and loving and joyful these children are when I know how easily the seeds of bitterness, frustration, hate, and anger could take root.
But, in spite of all that—which by our first world standards would "rightfully" qualify them to be despondent—His joy is their joy. They demonstrate His love regardless of their circumstances.
And so they don't love us because we're so loveable. (I mean, we are. *wink* However, I really wasn't my most loveable self the first day I set foot on MPA's campus.)
They don't love us because we look like them.
They don't love us with any expectations. (Except maybe, probably, to be loved in return. I mean, they're adorable, beautiful children. How can one not?) No. They love with abandon.
These sweet kiddos greet us each day with a smile, high-five, a "Jambo" ("hello"), hug, or even maybe, if lucky, a surprise kiss. (Ask me sometime about the sneak attack kiss by Steve-o... it will melt your heart!)
They use their valuable paper to draw us pictures and write us letters.
This year a student gave me a bracelet. A BRACELET. Are we kidding? Do you know just how little they have and she gifts ME with something? C'mon... Incredible!
Last year a group of former students started a group called TREAT254 (what we would refer to as a non-profit). Do you know what this small group does? They collect money to give to organizations less fortunate than themselves. Stop it right now! This is where I can no longer prevent the tears from flowing because my heart simply bursts with joy! We have so much and they have so little, yet they are doing more than many in the United States ever do. Astonishing!
There are so many more examples I could provide of how I see Jesus in Kenya, and how, because of it, my relationship with Him is more real than it ever was before. In re-learning how to love, my sorrow dissipated and my joy returned. In turn, His joy has become my joy. Let's just say I'm so thankful I boarded that plane in March 2016!
In closing, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one very important person whom I admire, respect, and love tremendously. VIP = JP. You know him as Joey Potter. He exemplifies this commandment. One thing that he repeats constantly is, "The world believes in what you do and not in what you say... " And Joey is simply the epitome of action (loving others) versus words!
I also cannot leave out my teammates, nay friends, who are living out this command, as well, each with their own gifts and talents (including baboon kicking *phew*).
Joey, my teammates—these are my forever family—even if some of us only see each other in places requiring passports!
Life is a journey, and there most certainly will be valleys to traverse. But if we follow this simple commandment, it needn't be a laborious or lonely one. If you find yourself feeling low or broken, just think of the children of Mountain Park Academy in Nakuru, Kenya.
Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. - Mother Teresa