I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl.
She was standing in the corner on the other side of the world.
And I heard the voice of Jesus gently whisper to my heart,
“Didn’t you say you wanted to find me?
Well here I am, here you are.
So what now?
—“What Now,” Steven Curtis Chapman
I spent this past summer as a volunteer teacher at Bethel Foster Home for blind and disabled children in China. It was an amazing and humbling experience. I arrived there in July expecting to learn much more than I would teach, and by the beginning of September, that expectation had proven true.
There are 31 children at Bethel Foster Home, and almost all of them are blind; some have additional disabilities such as infantile autism or attention deficit problems. Others have mental and emotional issues from many years spent in poor, often abusive conditions in other orphanages. Bethel is truly a haven for them. Founded only a few years ago by a young French couple, the foster home is a loving and nurturing environment as close to a family as many of these abandoned children can have. In just two or three years of living at Bethel, many children’s lives have been completely transformed. Many have transitioned from violent habits and distrust to love and openness.
It is amazing what love can do. It can take a life and turn it completely around. Isn’t this the core of the Gospel: that love is the greatest transforming power, able to heal, to forgive, and to save? If such a powerful force is the mission, message, and very person of Jesus Christ, why does Christianity today seem to be lacking in true transformative power and spirit? According to the news we read every day, Christianity is certainly not disengaged from political involvement in this country or a wide range of scandals. People wonder what being Christian is actually about. Is it more than just going to church on Sundays, wearing a cross, and telling people to repent and believe in Jesus?
I believe in the basic salvation message: that Jesus Christ came to this Earth to die for our sins and offer us eternal life. But I also believe that that wasn’t the only reason He came. He came to show us how to live. His years of public ministry as recorded in the Gospels are vivid pictures of compassion, giving, healing, standing up for what is right, and selfless love. To the very end, He was indiscriminate and radical in His love for others and death approached, Jesus gave a clear message to his followers about how one who truly follows God should live. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me,” (Matthew 25:35-36). “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40).
Each person is created in the image of God, with the ability to love, to feel, to be hurt, to rejoice, to want love from others. And in each of the 31 children at Bethel, I saw His face, the question of “what now?” gently painted in innocence and expectation. The question “what now?” is more prominent, more insistent, as I think of the millions of children in China who are not so fortunate, still living in the sad conditions many of Bethel’s children had experienced for most of their lives. And when one considers the enormity of suffering across the entire world, places where human beings are still bought and sold as slaves, where children are forced into prostitution, where hundreds of thousands of people are brutally killed in Darfur… the question “what now?” is blatantly obvious and unavoidable.
I do believe love is more powerful than suffering. But it is also a great challenge to love, and perhaps this is why it seems so impossible to fix all the world’s problems. There were many times I became frustrated with teaching children who rebelled and didn’t listen, or got tired of spending so many hours a day with preteens desperate for attention. Still, time and time again I found myself face to face with the truth of who these children were: living testaments to the transforming power of love. Once, I asked the students to finish a sentence beginning with, “I am grateful because…” One girl said, “I am grateful because many people love me.” This and many other moments struck me powerfully, reminding me that despite all that is wrong with the world, God is here and He is not letting go. His wish is not only for us to know and love Him, but also to love and serve others. It is easy to say, “I love God,” but what validates or falsifies that statement is whether one follows the command to love others and serve the “least of these.”
Today, Jesus still presents this question as both an invitation and a challenge.
…I know I may not look like what you expected,
but if you remember,
this is right where I said I would be.
You’ve found me.