Some years back, a young lady, realizing that she was about to reach an age where she would be making her own decisions concerning jobs, homes and the like, was asking for advice as to where people thought it would be best to live. Various people commented on the weather in this place or that, or the scenery or sunsets that might be found in certain locales, and the various activities that could be enjoyed in different regions. My own advice was a bit different. God has made a wondrous world and every place has its own kind of beauty, if you are willing to see it. Likewise, most places have interesting things to do, of one fashion or another. These are not what makes any one place special. Rather, a place is made most special by the relationships you form with the people there. Scenery is nice, but it cannot never replace a loving family, or warm friendships, nor should we allow them to do so.
When we read, “God so loved the world (John 3:16),” the Bible is not speaking of the trees, the sunsets or any of the wildlife. When God considers the world, it was the people in the world who were most precious to Him, and it was for people that Christ died.
I have had occasion in the past few days to recall this truth of life. God has blessed me and my wife, over the past six years, with the opportunity to do missionary work in Costa Rica. As part of a team of nine, we spend a little over a week each January knocking doors, having Bible studies, and helping to conduct Gospel campaigns with various congregations located in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a land filled with numerous ecosystems and quite a bit of natural beauty. For the last two years, we have worked in the La Fortuna community in the province of Alajuela, an area famed for the Arenal volcano. The volcanic soil, the tropical sun, a year-long growing season, as well as plenty of rain means that the region is lush and green. It is also an area, because of its beauty, which is frequently filled with tourists – sightseers from all over the world who come to enjoy the marvelous natural wonders of the region.
Many people, when they hear that we are going to Costa Rica to work, immediately start congratulating us on being able to go to such a place, and each of us who make the journey do indeed feel blessed in having a part in the ministry there, but these feelings have nothing to do with scenery. In fact, most of our time is spent in places which aren’t very pretty, at least outwardly. We visit people in their homes, and those who are most receptive are often the ones who have the least. Bare concrete floors, broken furniture, makeshift wiring, laundry drying on low-hung lines inside one room houses (because it rains every day), dirt yards, and an almost complete absence of amenities and luxuries – these are some of the images which come to mind when we think about Costa Rica; and yet, as we form relationships with people, the scenery fades into the background, and the needs, faith, and love of those we study and work with comes to the fore. What makes us anxious to go back to Costa Rica every year has nothing to do with the beauty of the countryside and everything to do with the fact that we have family there, a family not borne of flesh and blood, but fashioned through love and faith and a shared relationship with Christ Jesus (cf. John 1:11-12). We are sorrowful to leave each year, not because we are going to miss the tropical weather in January, but rather because we want to spend more time with the local church, more time with the people we have studied with, and more time building and strengthening the relationships we have formed. At the same time, as we return home, there is also joy because while we are leaving people we love, we are going back to people we love: our families, our neighbors, our friends and our congregations.
It calls to mind that Jesus Himself made a similar journey for much the same reason. The Scriptures encourage us to be mindful of this when they teach, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7; ESV)” Jesus, lest we forget, was in heaven with God. Can we imagine a more glorious scene? Yet, He left that place of glory to come to this world, to spend time with the poor, the sick, the lost, the broken, and the like, forming relationships with them, even going so far as to suffer horrendously so as to form an eternal relationship with those who would come to Him in faith and obedience for salvation. Then, when He was done, He returned joyfully to the Father, having created a way to bring others back with Him (cf. Hebrews 12:2)
If the Son of God, in the fullness of His wisdom, sought for beauty, not in a place, but in the creation of a spiritual family which could abide with Him throughout eternity, we are well advised to seek for it in much the same way, building up our own families in love and faith, building relationships with the Lord’s church, and with those precious souls in the church, and finding joy in those relationships.
If you would like to learn the joy which comes from being a part of God’s loving family, the church of Christ invites you to join us in worship and study at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.