When nothing makes sense, you know you are right where you are supposed to be.

According to Webster’s dictionary, displacement means, to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place.

Jesus was the ultimate example of this, “But he was wounded for the wrong we did; he was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to him, and we are healed because of his wounds.” Isaiah 53:5

As followers of Jesus we are called out of familiar places to unknown territories, out of ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.

When we put ourselves in unfamiliar places where people are poor and hungry and exploited, it changes you. You may be there to heal them, but in exchange God changes you forever.

A few years ago I took a team of 30 people to Mexico City for 8 days to work with children who were living in extreme poverty. It is a trip I will never forget.

In a city of 30 million people, the chaos, the poverty, the hurting, the sick is all around. It was emotionally overwhelming to see the seas of people struggling to survive.

Mexico City has wealthy areas and affluence, but we did not go to those places. The poor places, which are far more numerous, were the areas where we would feed children, play soccer and share with them the message that Jesus loved them.

We saw children who were hungry, sick and literally had nothing, yet their smiles, the brightness of their beautiful brown eyes, and the thankfulness in their fragile little voices was a strange juxtaposition for a middle class American to wrap his brain around.

We would tell them Jesus loved them and they would beam, “I know!” With very, very little these kids were celebrating life and God, so grateful for everything around them. There was a depth to there contentment that made me envious. It magnified the depth of my own emptiness. With all my material possessions and pleasures and opportunities in my life, these children, in many ways, were happier than I was.

My emotional state went hurling over the edge of sanity the day we spent in the vast garbage dumps on the west side of the city. Where the city met the dump we drove for 40 minutes at about 20 miles per hour right into the heart of this garbage, disease infested wasteland. We arrived at this little village that had been built up out of garbage for years. Children were all around. It was as if they were waiting for something. Waiting for someone. Maybe they were waiting for us. It seemed like we were on another planet. All I could think about was the old Mel Gibson movie, “Road Warrior“.

The living were barely alive, their round, little, bloated bellies aching and calling out to us as we tried to feed them rice, beans, tortillas. I remember the starving little faces looking up to us, hardly strong enough to receive the meal. There were live electrical wires lying on the ground all around us just waiting for the next unsuspecting soul. Many of the kids were deformed from the lack of medical care. None of the kids knew there was a world outside of the dump. They were just grateful we were there. Somebody cared.

My body and brain went numb. This was not real. How could it be? I saw a little graveyard across from where we were handing out the food. Little crosses marked the lives of the young who had surrendered to the enemy of hunger and disease much too early. I was experiencing the worst nightmare of my life, but I wasn’t sleeping! I was wide awake. Reality sucker-punched me that day, and it is a blow I will never forget.

That night I lost it in my hotel room. I cried. I yelled. I wept with sadness and yelled at God in anger! My emotions were painful and raw. The scab of my false image of reality had been ripped off that day and it exposed the raw sores of how so much of our world truly lives. Our team gathered and said nothing. Words were useless and shallow. We just cried. And cried. And cried. The words of Sydney J. Harris came to mind, “When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’”

And then the questions started racing through my weary mind. What hope did these children have? Why was I so blessed? Why was I so discontent when I have so much? Why would God put those kids in that situation? Why doesn’t God do something about it? Why doesn’t somebody do something about it? I was a mess!

The next night, we went to a church service on the outskirts of the dump. The building was made out of material from the dump. All kinds of metal, plastic and wood formed this little shack of worship. It was a church that reached out to people who lived in the dump. My emotions were still raw. They had asked me to speak that night. How do you speak about the hope of God when all I could see was hopelessness all around?

During the music time, God introduced me to TRUE JOY. REAL CONTENTMENT. I watched from the back of the little church, people worshipping, thanking, smiling, hugging, and celebrating life and all the goodness of God.

They sang in Spanish the words of the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.” I was in awe! The poorest people I had ever met were challenging my paradigm when it came to happiness and contentment. These people were truly grateful and content.

Obviously it wasn’t because of their material possessions or their career dreams or because their 401k plans were growing. It came from something so much deeper. It was something that I needed. They were living the words of Paul, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”

To rattle my reality even more, they took an offering that night, and tried to give it to us. They tried to give us the offering! Now I knew that God was testing us and this was a no-brainer. We were not going to keep the offering! I may not be real bright, but this seemed like a pretty obvious decision. But the person who was our guide for the week said, “We better take it, or they will be insulted.” I was so humbled by the whole situation. My heart began to be filled because of their generosity. I will never forget the joy on their faces as they handed us the little bag of money as we hugged them goodbye.

I was reminded of the words of Paul writing about the poor churches in Macedonia, “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”

When you think of the words “poor” and “troubles”, you usually do not associate it with the words “joy” and “generosity”. But in God’s kingdom those words go together. This little, poor church with no material possessions was contagious with joy that led to a sacrificial generosity that challenged my faith and filled my heart.

I tend to think that my joy comes from good circumstances. That joy is very fragile. In fact that would be more like happiness than joy.

Real joy does not come from good circumstances but from the gratitude that everyday is a gift from God and I have been given the gift of His scandalous Grace. In the words of Henri Nouwen, “Gratitude does not come from feeling joyful. Joy comes from being thankful.”

I came to Mexico City to help physically hungry children, and what I discovered were hungry, poor, joy-filled, generous children who were feeding my hungry, poor, joyless, stingy soul. I hope I helped their hungry bellies. I know they helped my hungry soul!

When we put ourselves in unfamiliar places where people are poor and hungry and exploited, it changes you. You may be there to heal them, but in exchange God changes you forever.

Let us pray and serve the poor remembering the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” It is not a curse to have a lot of money. But it is, in fact, a huge responsibility that we will be accountable for. Let us not forget the hungry and the sick. May we use our blessings to feed and shelter and educate. May we be generous and joyful in our blessings. Let us remember that when we serve “the least of these”, that is where we actually serve and meet Jesus, the source of REAL joy and contentment.

3 thoughts on “When nothing makes sense, you know you are right where you are supposed to be.

  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. A good reminder that joy doesn’t depend on circumstances. Giving to help others brings so much joy, and shows them how much God loves them. There’s nothing better.

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