I have been studying International Relations here in the Netherlands for more than 1½ years now. Before I came to Groningen – after I had graduated from high school – I spent some time with Operation Mobilisation, a movement which since the 1950s has been encouraging and inspiring Christians to “get mobilized”, to not keep the hope we have been given tucked away in our own hearts alone, but to get it out.
Operation Mobilisation works in more than 110 countries, but also via the unique platform of the MV Logos Hope, an ocean going passenger ship on which 400 people from more than 55 countries sail from port to port and seek to meet people in the local communities.
My personal journey with the Logos Hope has, in any case, come to be all about that: the encounters with people, and with myself, and with the God who was and is the reason and purpose of the journey in the first place.
But let me first give you an idea of what life on the ship is like. In the two years I spent on board, I sailed from the Arabian Peninsula [United Arab Emirates and Qatar] down to South Asia [India and Sri Lanka], on to South East Asia [Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines], East Asia [Hong Kong] and back to South East Asia [Cambodia], from where I flew back to Europe. We spent different lengths of time in the different ports and sought encounters with the local communities in different ways – with the focus on passing on the love and hope we have been given in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. Whereas Singaporeans might have money but no time, the opposite can be the case in India or the Philippines. The ship ministry puts an emphasis on working together with local ministries and churches and encouraging them by joining up with them. Once a week, every crew member has a day to “get out”, to do a program in a church or hospital or slum, with songs and stories of hope, or to help in a practical way, painting, digging, building or cooking. Sometimes we’d get a chance to offer smaller medical services, like eye testing and glasses or dental treatment.
Additionally to the “days out”, people are invited to come visit the ship. One entire deck is dedicated to that kind of hospitality: there is a book store which offers literature on a range of topics (from cookery books via atlases, children’s literature to spiritual inspiration) at affordable prices, but also a café area where visitors are welcome to sit down for some ice cream and maybe even have a chat with a crew member. Further, a program team is permanently busy organizing events and conferences on board, for different target groups such as school kids, couples, pastors or whatever the need would be in a specific local community.
Of course keeping a ship of that size running also requires a big amount of very ordinary work: there is cleaning to be done and maintenance, operation of the machines in the engine room and watch keeping, a ton of paper work and of course cooking and caring for all the people on board. That’s why everybody works a quite ordinary 40h-week in the job they have been assigned. Besides shorter adventures of helping out in the engine room, cleaning department or galley (the ship’s kitchen), I first worked in the book fair – cashing, restocking, cleaning up and being there for the customers – and then moved one deck up to the reception desk, where – instead of maybe 5000 visitors a days – more individual guests of specific crew members would be welcomed and taken care of. I was responsible for the phone and paging system and for administration and security tasks. It was a job I enjoyed very much – more than I had expected, quite frankly! I loved how it kept me in contact with both locals and the ship’s community, which passed by my spot in the lobby several times a day, and many would stop for a shorter (or longer…) chat.
I have come to believe that through these chats, and sometimes through very brief encounters with people I’ll most likely never see again; but also through the deep friendships that developed in long conversations in small, crammed cabins, I have seen more of the world than when I stood in front of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – the tallest building on earth – or walked the streets of Hong Kong. I have come to believe that one hasn’t seen a country if one hasn’t met the people. I have been humbled and shown that more often than not situations are not what and people are not who they seem to be at first sight. Through the grace of glances into other people’s souls I have come to see that I am not who I might have thought I could be either.
It might be somewhat noble, as the white sheltered Central-European girl, privileged both with money and education, to want to go out and do something about the suffering in the world. It certainly also is hopelessly naïve though.
Of course, in my head I knew that before: it’s not me “and my buddy Jesus” who are going to save the world all over again.
For that to arrive in my heart, maybe sitting on a dirty street with hungry, half-naked Filipino street kids was needed.
Because really? Before Him, that’s all we are, and all we need to be. He is not our co-worker in a project that seems honorable to take up, He is our King whose heart aches for us and all of humanity, and who invites us to know this very heart, both in the ache and the loving cure.
More than asking us to be His servants, He invites us to be His children. More than asking us to pass on the Love He is pouring out, He invites us to receive it.
And when we come empty-handed, and when we come with those big, expectant eyes that met me on that street, then He fills us up. Generously. So generously, that it will flow over and out as a life-giving stream holding more blessing than we ever could have mustered by the previous attempt to “do something good”.
“Remain in me,” He says, “and I in you – and you will bear much fruit.”
“Be still, and know that I am God – I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
So, out of all my encounters, the most valuable ones, without a doubt, were those with God Himself. The ones in which He turned out not to be who I’d thought He was either.
When I went out to show His love, it turned out He was even more loving than I’d thought.
When I resolved to serve to show His grace, it turned out He was more gracious than I’d thought.
When I’d wanted to live simply to show His generosity, He turned out to be more generous than I’d thought.
When I wanted to spend my time serving Him for His glory, I learned that truly, John Piper is right when he says that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.