Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (From 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
While leading a church mission trip to Brazil, I was in charge of passing out tickets to the members of our group for a lunch at a Methodist camp. As I counted the tickets, I noticed there was one extra. Our host, a retired missionary named Marion Way, explained the ticket was for a young woman he and his wife were trying to help. She had come to the camp with friends that day, and Marion was buying her lunch.
As Marion explained this woman’s lifetime of failed efforts to get herself on track, she sounded like a lost cause. She had three children, none of whom she was currently caring for, and had abandoned one child at birth. Raised in an orphanage, this woman had been on and off drugs, and in and out of halfway houses almost her entire life. And she had recently decided to leave a group home and go back out on the street.
In typical American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps fashion, I thought, “Why help those who won’t even help themselves?” And then I remembered the words of my pastor, Dr. James Howell, from a sermon a few weeks earlier. His words hit me so hard, I pulled out a pen to jot them down in the middle of the sermon: “God doesn’t abandon us for our failure to achieve. Therefore, we shouldn’t abandon others for their failure to achieve.”
Our devotional that evening was from 1 Corinthians 13, a passage I’d listened to so many times at weddings that I’d dismissed it as trite and stopped really hearing it. Through Marion’s living witness, that night I heard in a new way the definition of love as patient and kind -- bearing all things with a hope that never fails.
I had to go all the way to Brazil to see the words I’d heard in North Carolina put into action.