Singing the Hillsongs' worship song yesterday, "To The Ends Of The Earth", there were certain words that really captured my heart. The whole song is really challenging and I wasn't even sure that I could sing the words and really mean them.
I am not sure that I would go "to the ends of the earth". The heart would be willing but the flesh would be weak. I was thinking
just where are the ends of the earth? I find it hard enough to go to the end of the garden path and initiate a conversation with my next door neighbour!
Where are the ends of the earth?
For a long time, my family, because I wasn't married, and I had a zealous passion for God, expected me to become a missionary. They could picture me in a canoe, making my way up the Congo river. A far off country where the pygmies live was where the end of the earth was. However, I believe that the "ends of the earth" have little to do with the geography of the earth and more to do with the geography of the heart. I think they change and shift with time and maturity.
About eight years ago I spent four weeks of my summer holiday working with a mission in Durban, South Africa. It wasn't a huge mission, perhaps just a half dozen or so workers. They had many fingers in many pies in terms of ministry, but the one that I spent most time with was working in an orphanage in a black township. Early in the morning we drove around various supermarkets in the area to collect out of date bread and vegetables which we delivered to the orphanage. While the women used these leftovers to make stews for the children, we busied ourselves about the buildings making repairs to broken windows, emptying clogged up cisterns and washing and playing with the children
My particular "end of the earth" came when I encountered the smell of the place. It was not a clean, hygienic smell. Some of the younger children in particular smelt overpoweringly of dried urine. There were one or two children that had diahorrea and rather than swathe them in nappies that they would have to change, and couldn't afford anyway, they were left naked from the waist down.
All children love affection. They want to be cuddled. My "end of the earth" was about whether I wanted to do the cuddling. Could I really get beyond the unpleasant smell to show compassion to these children. I found that I could not hold them at arm's length and picked up the children to carry, sat them on my knee and played pattacake and let them run their sticky fingers through my hair.
In the course of the afternoon, I became just as smelly. There was nothing to distinguish them from me.
I found it quite distressing and when I returned to the Mission house, I spend ages in the bathroom, scrubbing my skin, and washing my hair. The smell seemed to linger, no matter how much soap and water I applied.
I felt God speak to me, telling me that he understood how I felt. After all, didn't He leave the glory of heaven to become human? He took on the smell of humanity. He embraced all of the sin and the deprivation of humankind - and on the cross there was nothing to distinguish Him from any other person, so God turned His face away.
He did not want to be tarnished by sin, but because He loved people, He was willing to embrace all of man's dirtiness.
Because he loved people.
It is love that enables us to do tremendous things.