Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 17: To Be of Service

"Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
-2 Kings 5:13-15

As a YASC missionary in her second year, I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me exactly what is is that I do. Additionally, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve kind of gotten the feeling that people expect a more exciting or spectacular answer. My first year was essentially administrative and communication support, with travels to various dioceses in Brazil to get to know the wider work of the Episcopal Anglican Church here.  My second year has exciting opportunities in human rights work and community outreach…and yet, I’ve come to realize that I’m not really here to change much anything at all. After a year, it’s been clear that I’ve been changed to a fair degree. But when I’m honest with myself, I’m not here to change Brazil, or the world, however much I’m passionate about that — the real game-changer is God, and the beautiful and mysterious ways in which the Spirit works in, with and through us and others.

I was particularly struck by the story of Namaan in today’s readings. Here we have a man with a very serious situation—leprosy. As would most people in his situation, he sought to be healed from his affliction. No doubt he was in much discomfort, and was willing to do nearly anything to be relieved from it. Furthermore, he also had the distinction of being in possession of enough resources to be able to do nearly anything for it…and yet he is noticeably displeased with the simplicity of Elisha’s response. There was no clap of thunder, or mystical appearance of God in the midst—Elisha didn’t even make a personal appearance; he sent a messenger. Namaan was not exactly thrilled with the response.

 But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father,  if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?

Namaan obeys, and is healed. His life is changed.

In mission work, we talk a lot about the concept of ‘ministry of presence.’ As the name might suggest, it is mission enough to be — to be in community, to be amongst people, to participate in their lives, to walk with them. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, as we so often feel like we have to do more, be more, make something, and maybe it has to be big and noticeable and make me feel like I actually did something worthwhile. In that sense, Namaan’s story is a good one for me to keep in mind: had God asked me to do something difficult, I would not have hesitated…what more then that he asked me to do something so simple? To be here in Brazil, in community, amongst people. Simplicity doesn’t negate its importance, but it’s made me realize that so very often, I try to overcomplicate things—and it’s not about that.

As author Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” And what is it that we remind ourselves before Communion? That we are to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbors. That everything else we believe, why we do what we do, rests upon these two things. It is so beautifully simple, and yet we know in practice, it can all be so beautifully complex, and difficult to do. When we try to do it, life happens. God happens…and everything changes.

Nina Boe is working in the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, part time 
in support of the Office of the Bishop and part time with the Church 
of the Most Holy Trinity's human rights ministry and community outreach.

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