by Jayna Russel
The Path In Between
“Let me tell you a God story,” Tom said to me as we sat chatting together at Starbucks. “I was in Bucharest, Romania, working with an orthopedic team from Operation Smile. In Romania, there were whole hospitals full of children dying of AIDS, and suffering from horrible deformities because they had never left their cribs. We were in one of those hospitals.”
Tom is retired now, but he spent much of his adult life working as a nurse anesthetist, and volunteering his professional services in some of the most impoverished countries in the world.
“We had been operating on children all day,” he continued. “It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, and I had been giving anesthesia since seven o’clock that morning. No one had given me lunch. I was hungry and thirsty, and I was irritated.
“Eventually someone brought me food. I went outside, and there were about five half-dead dogs lying around on the ground. My lunch was nothing but a little tomato, a crust of bread, and a little piece of cheese, and I was mad. But then I saw a little boy, who was wearing nothing but his pajama bottoms, and he was diving into the dumpster.
“God looked down at me in that moment, and He said, ‘Tom, you are a selfish person. What is your problem?’”
It was a turning point in Tom’s life. “It was one of those moments,” he said, “that wouldn’t have happened in La Jolla, or going to a football game, or hanging out at a bar. It could have only happened there.”
And Tom’s response was, I have to do more.
For the past two years, Tom has been volunteering for San Diego Refugee Tutoring, a non-profit organization that provides San Diego’s many refugee children with educational support through tutoring, school supplies, extra-curricular activities, and advocacy. His initial commitment began with a handful of tutoring sessions a month, and has since grown into so much more. Tom keeps showing up, and he keeps looking for ways that he can bring about change.
I’ve been thinking about my conversation with Tom ever since, and have found myself asking what it really means to call myself a Christian. And how, if at all, am I living out that calling?
If I’m honest, I have to admit that when I see poverty and desperation, I want to shut down. And I know that other people want to respond in anger, lashing out in a need to blame, punish, and avenge.
How do we make sense of such things? How do we face the truth of the world’s astounding pain? How do we operate as God’s instruments of peace?
I asked Tom what we can do in the face of the overwhelm that results from these questions, and he said simply this, “You have to really look inside yourself and at your own values, and remember your integrity. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘The way you do anything is the way you do everything.’ Are you going to be a Christian and stop and help, or are you going to move on?’”
At the end of the day, Jesus’ mission of peace is not passivity; nor is it violence and aggression in the name of retribution. Peace is the third way, the path in between, wherein Jesus compels us to bring about healing and restoration. For Tom, in a world that is so broken and divided, he chooses a path of service as a way of bringing about God’s peace.
In the face of insurmountable odds, therefore, we choose to follow the example of Jesus because it is the right thing to do, and because our integrity compels us to do so. We don’t shut our eyes and turn away. We also don’t allow anger and bitterness to determine our choices. We choose peace. Because of Him.
So, if you are a Christian and are wondering how you are going to be an instrument of peace, here is what Tom has to say to you, “Be willing to get uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable situations you seek, the more you learn, and the more you will realize what you can do. We are here on this earth to help one another. And if each of us does our part, we can really change things.”
Wherever you choose to serve, know that you matter to God, and that you are here on this earth to make a difference. We choose Peace. For Him.
For more information on San Diego Refugee Tutoring, please check out their website at www.sdrefugeetutoring.com. They are always looking for donations of funds, school supplies, and the like, but the most important resource you can possibly give is your time. It is you, showing up and being available for a kid in need. Your time can make an immeasurable impact.