Empathy and Exodus
Taking a group of students outside the walls of the church to serve in mission with other Christians is a major undertaking. Far too often we spend all our time planning the supplies and making sure everyone has their packing list without helping students engage their imagination and hearts with what is on the horizon when we partner in mission with other people. This discussion guide will help you start that conversation.
Imagine. There were people in great poverty. They had no say in the events of their own lives. They had no power of choice. There was even an order passed to kill their babies. They had nothing except a promise, but even that promise seemed to have been forgotten.
These people were slaves. They had been slaves as long as anyone could remember. Even the oldest grandfather’s oldest relative had been a slave. They knew there was a time, far back in the recesses of their history that this people group had not been enslaved, but no one who was alive had actually experienced freedom.
Instead they worked. In the grime, in the sun, with salty sweat dripping into their eyes and making their lips chapped, under the strictest supervision, they built cities for their oppressors. And since their oppressors feared this people group, they had no mercy.
Exodus 1:13-14, “So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and all kinds of work in the fields. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”
You are in this group. It has been four hundred years. You feel will always be a slave, just like you mother, and her mother, and her mother before her. You are carrying heavy buckets full of sand. Your feet are barefoot. You slip. The slavemaster hits you in the same place he hit you yesterday. It still hurt when you got up this morning and now, with the second hit, pain shoots through your body. You groan.
Exodus 2:23 – “During those days the king of Egypt died and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant. God saw the people of Israel-and God knew.”
What if we use this verse as a model for our missions preparation?
Look at the Exodus passage again, taking out all but the action words: God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew. He didn’t begin with solutions, he began with identification.
Pay attention to the kinds of questions you are asking of others. Do they assume certain answers? What is your posture towards listening? How will you react if someone says something you don’t want to hear? Get defensive, change the subject, ask, tell me more?
Only when we “unload” our questions from assumed answers can we really begin to listen. In listening, you allow “the other” whoever that other is, to come close and have a voice.
Here’s are some examples:
- Wouldn’t you like me to help you with that? vs. Is there any way I can serve you?
- How much are you dying to follow Jesus? vs. Will you share a story about a time you felt close to God?
- Do you prefer getting up at 6:30 or 6:45? vs. What time should we set the alarm for?
- What kind of house do you want me to build for you? vs. Share with me what a partnership looks like from your perspective.
God remembered. So should we. There are more kinds of poverty than lack of stuff. Remember a time you felt voiceless, hopeless, ashamed, helpless or isolated. What did that feel like? What did you hope for in that situation? What helped? What hurt?
What did God remember? His covenant to Abraham. We do not have to fix anybody. God is the rescuer. Where has he rescued you? Where are you in the midst of being rescued? God remembered his promise and he saw it through. He is the rescuer. Most of all, remember that.
Who has ever been visited by someone from another town? What did you do when they were here? In every place we go, there are people who live and die in that place. It is not a drive-through destination for them, it is their home. Let them show it off! As we empathize with people’s hurts, let’s also have eyes eager to see what they see. We may see clutter, they may see records of accomplishments – trophies, letters, even old homework. We may see dirt, they may see the road to a friend’s house. We may see strangers, they may see family members and dear friends.
Everyone has something they are proud of. Give the gift of interest! Ask questions! Let people show you their turf, and tell you their stories. There is always more than meets the eye. Have eyes to see the promise God has for the people he is working among.
When you leave your culture, God knows. He knows what it takes for you to leave and come back, the calling he has on you, the struggles you face. He knows the future and what it will take to get there, and precisely what will happen in the meantime. He knows you, he loves you, he gets you. You are not alone. He knows.
The people we are going to are equally precious. He knows them too. Each one of them. God knew and God knows, and it’s worth repeating this over and over again, because it’s a game changer. We are not alone. God beat us to our mission and he knows precisely what is going on there this moment. He knows.
God heard, God remembered, God saw and God knew. May, we who are made in his image, do likewise.
For further reading check out: https://www.chalmers.org/our-work/redefining-poverty/what-is-poverty/