“I now understand what ‘loveable’ means,” one of the young people proclaimed. “It means forgetting myself and diving deep into the needs of someone else.”
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to get people into our churches,” said Pastor Dale, “with only a smattering of success. They are afraid of us, angry that we want to take away their traditions, and although a few are baptized when we hold a series of meetings, many of them go back to their old ways right away. It’s hard to get anyone to change.”
I saw sadness in Dale’s face. He had worked as a missionary for many years, so I asked if he had found a way to bring the life of Jesus to the people he served in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.
“Only one way,” he said. “We conducted annual training workshops for our young church leaders, prayerfully seeking how God would like us to work with the people around us. After a while we decided to turn everything upside down. Rather than wait for people to come to church, we’d take the church to the people.”
* * *
As part of their training, a score of youth began imagining what the church would look like if it had no walls, no pews, and no windows. Only ears, eyes, hands, legs, and hearts. The team studied the Gospels and the book of Acts to see how Jesus and the disciples brought church to people. They also considered discipleship principles found in the final chapters of The Ministry of Healing, a ministry book written by Adventist pioneer Ellen White.
“My favorite part,” says Pastor Dale, “is where she writes that ‘the strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.’* Reading those words got us imagining better ways to be more lovable Christians.”
The New Guinea youth developed beautiful programs to address basic needs of people who were struggling with sickness or were in major life transitions, such as marriage, becoming adults, or having their first child. As part of their training, youth were required to go into the community and practice.
* * *
Several of the youth found a man who was “sick unto death.” He was unable to get around well so his house and yard needed attention. He needed food as well as friends. But the fellow wasn’t friendly. In fact, he despised Adventists and had tried his best to prevent the youth from having their training workshop in his village. He’d even sent out spies to sneak around their camp and report back on what they were doing.
“The youth came back to class,” Dale remembers, “and didn’t even mention they found someone needing help. They were afraid to help him, and it took considerable encouragement for them to return to his house.”
After respectfully greeting him, one of the youth stepped forward and explained that they had been learning how to serve people in the community. When they found out that he was sick, they decided to practice what they were learning. They wanted to spend a whole day caring for him and doing anything that he needed done.
“You want to serve me for a whole day?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, sir,” they replied. “Would you mind?”
Shocked, he nodded his head in agreement.
The next morning 17 youth came to his house armed with machetes, rakes, axes, shovels, rags, and soap. They also brought several days’ worth of good nutritious food. While one group raked and cleaned around the outside of the house, another group entered the house and gave it a thorough cleaning. They even washed his clothes by hand and hung them out to dry.
Several of the young women made a delicious meal, while strong young men carried their patient to the creek and gave him a bath. While he was out, the mat he slept on was cleaned.
At the river the young men washed their new friend thoroughly, singing and laughing as they worked. Hair, body, nails, along with lots of soap and cool water, all applied by caring hands and loving hearts. It was his best bath ever.
Back at the house all was ready; a delicious meal was served to him on clean dishes.
The man was overwhelmed, but the youth weren’t done yet. They talked about herbs that he might find helpful. They sang to him. They shared Bible promises and invited him to come to God and ask for help and healing.
* * *
The sick man was quiet for a while. He knew that nobody else would take care of him like this. The thought would never even cross their minds. To think these youth had cleaned his house, washed him, cut firewood for him, brought him many days’ worth of food, and even cooked some for him. And the singing and prayers—and all without pay!
As tears ran down his face he addressed the youth, “Our people don’t know how to do what you have done for me today. But they need to know! They need to know how to take care of people like this. Please tell your trainer that we will give you land. We need a permanent training program here, so that all of our youth can learn to do what you have done!”
That evening at class the youth told and retold their experiences with the man in the village.
“I now understand what ‘lovable’ means,” one of the young people proclaimed. “It means forgetting myself and diving deep into the needs of someone else. It means washing an unfriendly person’s hair and cleaning their clothes. It means singing happy songs where people are sad. It means choosing to love very unlovable people, even those who try to harm us.”
A few weeks later the old man walked up to one of our lay pastors. “I want to be baptized!” he said.
“But we have never studied with you,” replied the lay pastor, “and you have never come to church. Why do you want to be baptized?”
“I was sick the other day and one of your youth saw me. He cleaned my house and yard and cut my firewood. He cooked for me and even carried me to the creek and washed me. If that’s what Christianity is, then I want it!”
* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 470.