I’ve been thinking about this since my last tropical island vacation in the particular slum of Santo Domingo known as Cielo. Actually this incident didn’t occur in Cielo; it was at the leprosorium.
I’ve been to the leprosorium as many times as I’ve been to Cielo. Over the years the population has dwindled down from over 50 residents to around 18 now. It’s hard to go there because you don’t know until you get there who you’re going to see, or not see, as the case may be. This past January we saw something we’ve never seen before. At least I’ve never seen this before.
Other Americans were at the leprosorium. Two, a married couple from South Carolina. The wife struck up a conversation with some of the members of our group. I wasn’t in on the whole thing, but what I did hear was enough to give me pause to stop and think, and I’ve been thinking ever since.
It seems that this couple has gathered a lot of money to be used for improvements to the leprosorium facility. Lord knows it could use some improvements. The sidewalks are cracked and crumbled, making it difficult to impossible for the residents to get from their rooms to the common room where meals are served, unless they have help. The residents’ rooms are dark and dreary and depressing. The paint is peeling off the walls, inside and out. So this couple is looking for people to provide the strong backs necessary to make some needed improvements.
But that’s not what I’ve been thinking about.
There is a small community right outside the leprosorium’s gates, and it’s a dirt poor community. Worse than Cielo. The nice lady from South Carolina mentioned that she and her husband used to work with a group of volunteers in the community to help build houses or fix up some of the broken down ones. But there was a problem.
It seems that some of the members of the community didn’t, or wouldn’t, help with the construction. They stood by and watched. And that made Mrs. South Carolina mad. Those terrible people wouldn’t lift a finger to help, and they appeared to be perfectly capable of doing so. For that reason, she and her husband and their friends decided not to work in the community anymore, because “those people” wouldn’t help, and the people at the leprosorium “couldn’t help themselves.” And she is right about that last part: the people at the leprosorium can’t help themselves.
I had some questions for Mrs. SC, but I didn’t ask them because I didn’t really want to create a scene right there in front of the meeting room, because that’s not how I operate. I did talk through my concerns with another member of our group who had a similar reaction to what I heard.
Did I mention that I detest the phrase “those people” or “these people”? It’s a great phrase for lumping a group of people together and placing a label on their collective foreheads. I don’t like labels.
But I digress.
So, Mrs. SC, tell me…..
Did you ask the people in the community if they wanted to help? Sometimes people want to do something but will hang back until they are asked, for whatever reason. I understand that.
Did you offer to assist the folks in the community, to give them a heads up or a few words of kindness and friendship or a bit of guidance? Sometimes people want to help, but they just don’t know where to start or what to do first. They need a little direction and encouragement. I understand that too.
And yes, sometimes people just flat out don’t want to lift a finger to help and are perfectly content to watch what’s going on, knowing that they may very well benefit from someone else’s sweat equity.
Let’s say, just for fun, that the last case is indeed the truth in this instance. Does their deliberate non-participation give me the right to insult them, to proclaim that “those people” are lazy or stupid? Do I have the right to call them names? Well, yes, I suppose I do. But when I do that, what does that make me?
What would happen if I resorted to name-calling with, oh, I don’t know….my, husband or my kids? Or my friends?
I realize that I’m over-simplifying the situation, but lets face it: I’m a simple person. There’s a right way to treat people, and it’s also pretty simple: speak the truth, IN LOVE.
(spoiler alert: what follows came from that politically incorrect book, The Bible. If it offends you, just skip past the italics.)
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletness will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Hear me when I say this: I FAIL at living a 1st Corinthians 13 life EVERY DAY. I don’t want to be the creaking of a rusty gate, but I know I am. The point is to keep trying.
The point is to love extravagantly, as we are extravagantly loved.