Medical Missions: What Does Jesus’ Love Look Like?

There is a famous verse in the Bible from 1 Corinthians 13 which goes, “Love is patient, love is kind…

It’s easy to get caught up in the poetry of the words and forget that love is not just a feeling. Love, the action, is hard! I learnt a lot about what Paul meant when he wrote that passage. Most importantly I discovered how much I need Jesus to teach me, because love is not always my first response in human interaction. Here are a couple of points that God used to challenge my perception of what that word means.

  1. Love gives time

I don’t know if there is anything more challenging than hearing about how Jesus prayed and healed the sick and stayed up all night doing it. My selfishness was definitely confronted on my two outreaches with the Primary Health Care School. I remember my leader reading this passage in Luke 3 and I realised I lacked that compassion. While it is important and right to care for our health, God was asking me to lay down my rights. I saw that needing time to myself, and enough sleep, were two areas my heart didn’t want to sacrifice. “But Jesus, I need a full 9 hours of sleep” and “I was made to rejuvenate by taking time away”– these arguments pale in comparison to the undeniable compassion of Jesus as He listened and ministered to all who approached Him.

On outreach, Jesus challenged me through His own tireless kindness, to give my all and love even when it was hard to. Many mornings in Africa, I emerged from our accommodation ready for a good quiet time, only to be confronted by a crowd of expectant faces thinking our house was a hospital and seeking treatment. I could have gone back in the house, but I had prayed to learn to love like Jesus, and He gives His compassion to us when ours runs out.

  1. Love is not easily offended

That was a hard lesson. It is easy to go into another culture with knowledge that helps people feel better, and get a big head. It is treacherously easy to slip into a “Messiah complex” just because we solved a problem, or when we experience many patients’ profound gratitude. When you think like that, offence is just a step away.

The Holy Spirit is gracious to disciple and would point out my little urges to be offended. Sometimes it would be when my tirelessness and hard labor in an extra long day of clinics went by unnoticed. Other times it would be when my wonderful wound care skills were accepted without gratitude, or when my carefully detailed talk about nutrition left me with an unimpressed patient who still demanded vitamins. I found myself needing to evaluate why I was doing health care and asking God for more of Jesus’ humble love.

  1. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things

Working in medical missions and going on outreaches really taught me the strength of love. Before, it was easy for me to tune out or deflect the crisis of life and the heartbreak of our broken world. But on outreach God brought me face to face with tragedy and what my response as a believer needs to be. I had to encounter the goodness of God despite sickness and death. I got to pray time after time believing that God is a healer; and believing He is good even if there is no immediate or obvious healing. I was able to partner with God and experience his compassion for the sick: a baby struggling to breathe, a young man unable to walk. I cried as people shared tragic stories and yet was able to share with hope of a Saviour who came for the sick and longs to give eternal life.

Love never fails. Thank God this passage is talking about Love the Person, embodied in Jesus Christ. I may fail, my weak human love may fail, but Jesus never does. Through the Holy Spirit’s leadership in medical missions, I get a chance to learn, to make mistakes; to be humbled yet get back up again and go from glory to glory. I wouldn’t change these experiences for the world.