Part of the field preparation for both my church and mission agency requires reading "Cross-Cultural Servanthood" by Duane Elmer. It's taken me a while to get into this book; not because I don't think I have anything to learn but because I know I have quite a bit to learn and I'm not always eager to see the faults in myself.
It's been a quiet night on my unit and I've been able to make some really good headway into the book. One passage really struck me because I often look with disdain on people I consider "dirty." I forget that each human being, regardless of what they become, always bear the stamp of God. I've taken the time to retype the passage because I think it's that important.
"In the mid-1990s my wife and I, both teaching at a Christian college, were feeling out of touch with the needs and realities of the world. At the invitation of John Green, a graduate student, we decided to minister to people by walking the streets of Chicago one night a week for about a year. Mark Van Houten and John Green, veterans in this ministry, oriented us to street life. Walk slowly so people can approach you. Walk near the curb; alleys can be dangerous. Walk the same route each night so you become familiar with those on the streets. Read the gang symbols so you know whose turf you are on. Cross the street rather than walk around a group of people that might threaten you. We would arrive at about 8pm and slowly walk the same route each week, finally heading home about 3am.
Walking with Mark one night, I noticed a lady at the corner ahead. She was scantily clad. I turned to him and said in a voice the lady would not hear, "Is she a prostitute?" He paused; I remember thinking, Why the pause? It's obvious. Then he firmly said, "No! That's not a prostitute. That's a person...in prostitution." His profound statement affects me to this day.
When I saw this woman, I saw a prostitute. When Mark saw her, he saw a human being.
What do you think Jesus would have seen?
What made the difference in our perceptions? I tended to categorize people--homeless, drunk, drug addict, prostitute, pimp, panhandler--then I would know how to treat them: respectable vocation brings respect; disrespectful vocation brings disrespect. I decided who to accept not by the fact that they were living. Mark, however, saw the image of God in everyone in spite of their activity. This truth made everyone first and foremost a human being loved by God, accepted by Christ, sacredly endowed with dignity and worthy of being treated with respect and honor by every other human being. He accepted this person in prostitution just as Christ would." (pgs. 63-64)
When was the last time I categorically disrespected a person simply because of how I perceived them? Sadly, I do it on a daily basis. Here I am, supposedly called by God to become a servant to people the world often rejects...and I am just as guilty as the world...if not more so, because I know better! Amazingly enough though, God extends grace and reminds me that we are all works-in-progress, and that becoming aware of the problem is the first step to correction. Whew! There's still hope for every one of us. :)