October 8, 2013
Touching the Untouchables
Go to the lost, confused people … touch the untouchables. You have been treated generously, so live generously (Matthew 10:5, The Message).
Friend to Friend
The heat was brutal. My back was killing me. I was exhausted from a nearly sleepless night, and I had a pounding headache. Every muscle rebelled against the long flights and relentless van rides it had taken to arrive at this rural village in India. I longed for a relaxing, hot bath, but what I had was a bucket of cold water and a plastic cup with which to bathe.
My outer appearance certainly denied my inner attitude. I plastered what I thought must surely be a spiritual kind of smile on my face in an effort to portray the mercy and love I wanted to share. My husband and I were on a 19-day whirlwind trip to South Africa, India and Thailand to see the work our church is doing in those areas. I really wanted to think and feel the right things, but I could not seem to get past myself – a familiar struggle for me. Honestly, all I wanted to do was head back inside and take a nap. Instead, I was sitting before a crowd of over 200 people who had come to hear a message of hope.
Lepers came. Men, women and children of all ages with AIDS came, staring up at me from haunting eyes that mirrored more pain and heartache than I will ever know. A young mother who had just buried her baby wept quietly, comforted by another woman with no fingers and toes, a victim of leprosy. An older man with no feet made his way through the crowd in a crudely built cart pulled by another leper and friend.
Oh, I have been on many mission trips over the years and seen a great deal of poverty, but I had never seen more destitute and broken people or worse living conditions. Cows, chickens, sheep and goats roamed the dirty, rugged roads in front of thatched roof shacks these people called home. No water. No electricity. Sickness and hunger a natural part of their day. I cried out to the Father, “What in the world am I doing here, Lord? How can I possibly help these people?” Then I saw him.
Slowly he made his way through the crowd. The man could not walk because he had no legs. Only stubs remained where his hands had once been, but still he came, swinging his mangled body forward on arms and elbows scarred by what must have been a long battle with leprosy.
I thought surely he would stop at the edge of the crowd and rest, satisfied to have simply made it in time for the meeting, but still he came. I could not take my eyes off him as he inched his way toward me as if I had called his name. Brilliant blue eyes met mine and seemed to ask, “Will you touch me? Will you love me?” In that moment, my heart shattered, and I promptly fell in love. I saw him as he really was - one of God’s precious broken lambs - loved, cherished, planned and wanted; created by God for God - just like me.
I suddenly reached out and enveloped his mangled body in a fierce hug.
I just had to.
I loved him and I had to do something about it.
As his blue eyes flashed in surprise, a childlike smile captured his face, and he hugged me right back. In that moment, my life changed.
I have been in ministry forever. I have traveled across the United States and the world, speaking for various conferences, retreats, women’s events – you name it. I have directed various women’s ministries and been part of many mission trips to dangerous countries. I have written books, articles and devotions about loving the unlovable and touching the untouchable, but in a moment, in the course of one hug, God dissected and scrutinized my spiritual authenticity and integrity – and found it lacking. It was not only lacking in India, but in my every day life and the ministry God has given me in the place I call home.
I had come to give hope and joy. I had come to love. I had come to love the unlovable and touch the untouchables. Instead, I had come face-to-face with my own desperate need of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in my own life. And I am not alone.
Untouchables are everywhere – crippled by sin, broken and lonely, spiritually destitute and emotionally desperate, facing a death sentence of eternal separation from God. Others are men and women in ministry who have crashed and burned in a sea of moral failure or human indictment. Friends and family members stumble along in crudely made carts of greed and discontent. Instead of reaching out to those who so desperately need to be reminded of and to experience God’s grace and mercy, we have relegated them to a place of judgment with no hope of restoration. I can assure you that no such place exists in the Kingdom or God. God is all about restoration and healing.
If we are brutally honest, there are times when we do not want to see the untouchables. We do not want to touch them or get involved in their nasty lives. We are weary and exhausted. After all, it takes a lot of energy to wear the right mask for the right audience in the right place and at the right time. Our hearts are scarred and callused from fighting the wrong enemy. All we really want to do is slip into a numbing but deadly sleep, hoping that when we wake, someone will have cleaned up the mess so we won’t have to. I have been clearly reminded that the old saying really is true. If there is no mess, there is no ministry, and if there is no ministry, there is no mess.
I pray God uses us all to look for and reach out to those who seem to be unlovable, and then ask God to use us to touch those broken people who wait, longing for hope and healing.
Father, I am so guilty of looking away when I see someone in need. Please forgive me when I am too busy or just don’t care enough to reach out and care. Give me Your heart of mercy and compassion. Use me to love others in Your name.
In Jesus’s name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:31-37. What two truths did God give you about touching the untouchables in your life? What one step can you take today to respond to those truths?
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Originally published Tuesday, 08 October 2013.