Easter in Moscow with my fellow travelers left an indelible mark on me. In a hotel conference room, we sang together “He loves us, oh how He loves us…”. The mood became contemplative as we let the words settle into those places in our hearts where the orphanage staff, children, and translators reside.
My heart asked: Can I, dare I, believe and receive the extravagant love that Jesus exhibited during his work on the cross, and the freedom and acceptance which comes with his resurrection? Can I, dare I, believe Christ’s extravagant love and freedom will be known as profoundly by these children whose futures seem so limited and grim?
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us – Gungor
When Children’s HopeChest joined forces with Nadezhda Fund to connect American sponsors with Russian orphans, these organizations demonstrated incredible understanding of the impact of extravagant love: the truth is, extravagant love always speaks. It is sacrificial, purposeful, relational, persistent, effective. It knows our names. In the face of parental abandonment, “type 8” classification (which covers a wide range of retardation/mental deficiency/oligophrenia diagnoses), and separation from siblings who are adopted or placed in other orphanages, these orphans need to know their life matters. What bigger message of worth and hope is there than people seeking them out, choosing to write and connect with them, and traveling half-way around the world to be with them, to know them? Incomprehensible, but effective…one name, one letter, one visit at a time. I saw it dawning on their faces and in their eyes as the children received their “American Friends” for the 5th time. Only relationship can open up our capacity to give and receive and believe the truth of God’s extravagant love.
The systems for providing for the poor and “least of these” in our two countries are different, but each is a bureaucratic system all the same. Whether it’s the Russian structured educational system involving different schooling and orphanage classifications, or the U.S. system of subsidized income, food, housing and medical care, by their very nature, governmental bureaucracies are not set up to deliver the freeing impact of extravagant love. Impersonal and powered by money, these systems will always be found lacking. Like sieves, they are full of holes where evil can seep in to distort and destroy the original good intentions: mislabeling of children, corruption, loss of initiative and purpose, people pushed to the margins ceasing to be known. Just as we are incomplete without the love of Christ, so will be any social justice program we attempt to construct with only ingenuity, money, bricks, and politics.
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life – Mumford & Sons
God is reconciling this world to himself, and he knows our names. He is doing something bigger than we can comprehend or deliver on our own, and he is using us to do it. Once I returned home, this understanding about extravagant love began to resonate everywhere I looked. If it is true for our friends in Russia, it is also true for the people I know in my daily life here in North Carolina. A businessman becomes a nurturing caregiver for his failing wife… parents commit their daily lives and homes to raise children with physical and mental disabilities… a “successful” couple rearranges their life to start an urban church in a neighboring town… a friend prolongs a schedule-altering phone call because her friend is ready and needs to talk…a woman moves across country to simplify her life, just to find herself fiercely loving a young girl matched to her through a Big Sister program… I am rearranging my work schedule to Skype with people I did not know a month ago. I doubt the people in these examples are doing what they had planned or imagined, but it is the inspired life they’ve been given: to love extravagantly. Whenever we see or experience it, we can know that God is up to something good and higher than ourselves. He is refining and growing and providing and making a way for us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
Why do we spend energy asking why people choose to serve where they do? Sometimes God’s leading will look practical and straightforward, but as I continue to look around, most times it does not make any logical sense at all. We all experience yearnings and nudges and leadings…callings…to do unlikely things which seem totally beyond ourselves. We are initially uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing them and then uncomfortable if we ignore them. We are humbled and blessed if we follow them. This trip to Slobodskoi reminds me of how “other-than” God’s ways truly are, and the futility of asking “why?” As He has sharpened my view of people both far and near, watching them step into unlikely places doing extraordinary things, I am instead overwhelmed by these questions: Who, Lord? Where, Lord? When, Lord?
Thanks be to God, for including us in his marvelous plan of personal, extravagant, life-changing love!