To paraphrase a friend here at SMI who is keen on observing the characteristics of our society, “We live in a society..” which values education in academic settings only. What I mean by this is that the majority of our learning as a culture is limited to the classroom. Just look at the education any of the students involved with SMI are receiving, countless hours of schooling are dedicated to lectures and in-class learning. While I am convinced of the importance of learning from books and lectures, I believe this type of learning is only one-half of the complete educational process. The Bible speaks to this issue in Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Clearly God desires to see us utilize the minds He has gifted us with. The method in which He calls us to do this, however, is different from the ways the rest of the world suggests. As I searched God’s Word I found Philemon 1:6 – “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Now that is what I desire, “a full understanding!” But note the plan God lays out: being active in our faith is what will lead to such knowledge. Talk about a “renewing of your mind,” what could be more radically different from the way of the world than actively putting the faith we learn of in the Bible into practice in our lives? I can think of no better opportunity to put my faith into tangible action than SMI. These three weeks have been a blessing beyond what words can describe in part because of the wisdom God has put in my heart through the sharing of my faith here in Philadelphia. So here are three valuable lessons the Holy Spirit has taught me:
1) The Value of Listening – In the healthcare profession, time is everything. Often professionals are forced to reduce time spent with individual patients because of the work load imposed on them. The people of this area and the world, however, are thirsty for people willing to humbly quiet themselves and lend an ear to listen to their stories. In the book of James chapter 1 verse 9 we are exhorted to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” How basic and yet how challenging are these commands in our modern culture. How many conversations do we have where all we do is wait for our turn to speak, rather than actually attentively listening to the other person. Conversations with members of the community here at SMI have exposed me to a hurting world, a world I would never get to know if my only role in conversation was to speak. Just the other day my group engaged a Muslim man in conversation. My group members were quick to ask open ended questions about his beliefs and then to listen as he explained. What happened next, though, bears testimony to the truth of God’s Word. After the man had exhausted himself speaking of his beliefs and then his struggles, we had the opportunity to share the gospel in a loving way with this man. Even more, the man was receptive because as he stated, we did not come across as judgmental or condemning. My point here is this, had my group not listened to this man, we never would have formed a relationship with him which fostered the opportunity to plant the seed of the gospel in his heart. Philippians 2:3 states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Praise our God and Father because that day He created such an attitude in my group. By considering what our patients have to say as more important than our own words, we have created innumerable realtionships where the good news of Jesus Christ can be shared.
2) Fear is a lie – Before arriving in the inner city area of Philadelphia I had many people give me odd looks or make comments regarding my safety during SMI. God encouraged me, however, with Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Arriving here and living in the urban environment over the past weeks has offered me time to internalize the truth of this verse. Fear is not of God, it is of the enemy. Walking the streets of this community has allowed me to see this area as home to many and a place where hope exists despite the presence of hurt and brokenness. Coming to the urban setting is not, contrary to popular opinion, a ticket to getting mugged or shot. Nor is every person here a drug dealer or criminal. In stark opposition to these societal stereotypes, those people who live here have been incredibly receptive. I can think of no other setting in which people would invite total strangers into their home to take their blood pressures and blood sugars assessed. I can imagine no other area where such people would also openly share the intense pain and struggles of their lives with students like myself after meeting for just a few brief moments. As I overcame this fear with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, I came to realize fear of man is foolishness. What can man do to me? I fear God and as Proverbs 1:7 promises, from this act I know God has rained knowledge and wisdom into my heart. This revelation has allowed me to share the gospel ever more boldly. As I go out to touch the lives of others I remember Matthew 28:18 ” All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” In light of that, why should I be afraid to share the faith in Jesus which has changed my life forever? SMI has broken down walls of fear in ways I would never have thought possible. Praise be to God.
3) Pain is a reality in bigger ways than I could ever imagine BUT God is a greater healer than I ever could have conceived! – While at SMI, the struggles of this world have confronted me face to face. Both struggles in my own walk with Jesus as well as the struggles of others have been blatantly obvious to me over the past weeks. In my past I grappled with an eating disorder, yet while I have been at SMI God has stilled my anxious heart. I am proud to declare that by the grace of my God, disordered thoughts about my own body have not been a part of my experience here this summer. The Lord even brought Psalm 17:14 into my life to assure me of His goodness. “You still the hunger of those you cherish.” Oh how true those words are! My troubles, however, are only part of the equation spelled out before me here at SMI. I have also borne witness to pain far beyond anything I have ever experienced. Last week I had a conversation with a brother and sister who live in a dilapidated home near our home church. They live in constant fear of others. 24/7 a camera feeds images of their front step to the TV in their home. This is all the result of unimaginable suffering in their lives. Here are some of the struggles these two endured and shared with my group: death of family members, incarceration, HIV/AIDS, molestation in childhood, rape in adulthood, and perpetual loneliness and fear. Their story moved me to tears and yet in that moment the Lord opened a door to sow seed of the gospel in their heart. Later, as I spent time debriefing my day with my Heavenly Father, I was reminded by the Lord of His special care for widows and orphans. James 1:27 reminds me that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ” Praise God because He has given all of us at SMI the opportunity to do so. Above all, however, it is crucial for us all to remember this, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” (Romans 5:20). Therefore, even as I see the incredible pain members of this community suffer through, I can see even more and more grace and hope springing up in this area. In things as simple as a smile from a patient after providing a health screening and prayer, I see the hope of Jesus coming alive more and more each day.
I consider it a tremendous privilege to live out my faith as Philemon 1:6 encourages me to. I thank God for the knowledge He has instilled in my heart through the active sharing of my faith. He is the source of every good thing I have learned and experienced. Each day I know that our team is working towards bringing God’s kingdom here on earth (Matthew 6:9-10). No matter how dark some days may seem, there is always light to cling to. I am convinced of this: “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shinning,” (1 John 2:8). The members of this team are shinning the light of Jesus here and for that I thank God. We know this work can be painful but we are working for the glory of God and so we persist. One day God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,” (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, however, I, as well as all the students here are committed to shining God’s light into the darkness of this world. Take heart because the darkness can never overcome the True Light, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Michael Wortell. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org