© Scott E. Shaum 2014
Was it worth it?
In 2005 I had been in remote Cambodia providing some much needed pastoral care and counsel to a multi-national church planting team. The small city where they were working clung to the banks of the Mekong River not too far from the Viet Nam border. While there, I contracted Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever, which is a mosquito born virus similar to malaria. It took me 14 months to fully regain my strength.
Two years later I was back in Cambodia. On the way home I began to manifest some strong flu-like symptoms. Within 5 days of being home I was in the hospital. In the ER I had some sort of episode that was similar to cardiac arrest, but that is not what happened. It would take a year of tests and medical specialists and finally Mayo Clinic before I had any kind of “answers”. There I learned what likely happened is that I had contracted some unknown Asian virus that had “made the leap” into my nervous system. This virus, following so soon after Dengue, compromised my auto-immune system. I now manifest symptoms that land me within the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome spectrum. I will likely live with this for the rest of my life. God has not healed me despite many prayers and various traditional and non-traditional attempts.
Is it unwise to take such risks? Is it foolish for medical workers to travel to West Africa to provide needed care in the Ebola crisis? Is it too risky to go against the US State Department warnings and locate oneself along the Turkey/Syria/Iraq border to care for the flood of traumatized refugees while ISIS bears down? Is it too high a cost to step into relational messiness in an attempt to facilitate reconciliation? It is true each of these are costly and risky. But cost and risk is not to be our prime concern. If it is, we will be more concerned with our own well-being than that of others. And that self-concern is most unlike our God.
When we take risks that place us in possible harm’s way for the benefits of others, we are mimicking one of the core characteristics of God’s nature. You see, our God is Father. He desires sons and daughters to pour his life and love into. So much so that he has sought us out at great personal cost. The Son of God on the cross is the greatest display of God’s character, because it shows the self-sacrificing, self-giving nature of his love. And he desires other sons and daughters who will mimic him. That is how the glory of God’s love is displayed – He pours into us at personal cost and we are given the privileged opportunity to draw others into this relationship too. And sometimes that comes at great personal cost. Yes, we must seek counsel and be prudent in our choices. But the priority question is not ‘ought I risk’. The question is, ‘what opportunities has God placed before me to carry his love to those who need it the greatest’. To live in a self-giving, self-sacrificing manner for others’ benefit is to be most like our Father in heaven. Sure there may be fear and turmoil. That is normative. Even Jesus experienced this in the hours before the cross (see John 12:27-33 and Mark 14:32-36). Each act of risk for another is a deliberate act of love.
I know that I did not fully grasp all these truths during those early visits to Cambodia. The Father was simply guiding me in truths I did not yet understand. Now that I do grasp these realities better, they make for challenging choices. The willingness to risk for others well being is the courageous work of shepherding – to lay one’s life down for the sheep.
And, yes, it was and is worth it.